JCCT to present Southern comedy 'Rex's Exes'

Jessica Fischer • Apr 17, 2013 at 8:37 AM

The Southern-fried comedies penned by playwrights Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten have proven so popular with audiences at Johnson City Community Theatre that including the trio’s latest production in its 2013 season of shows was a no-brainer for JCCT.

“Rex’s Exes” opens at 8 p.m., Friday, April 19 at the downtown Johnson City theatre, with additional performances at 8 p.m., April 20, 26 and 27, and May 3 and 4, and at 2 p.m., April 21 and 28.

“I think their plays speak to our audiences in a way that they recognize themselves and their family and neighbors in the characters,” said Thomas Townsend, JCCT’s new theatre manager. “There’s a little bit of all of us that live in the South that recognize the crazy antics of the things you’ll do for a family recipe or a crazy old uncle or the stupid situations you get into trying to help family out. I also think the Jones Hope Wooten plays tend to be accessible also from a family standpoint. You’re not embarrassed to bring grandma down to a show. There’s nothing in the shows that you’d call racy or that you wouldn’t see if you turned on ‘The Golden Girls.’

“Right now, some of our best-selling performances are those shows, so as long as audiences keep asking for them, we’ll keep doing them.”

Other Jones Hope Wooten comedies include “Mama Won’t Fly,” “Dearly Beloved,” “Christmas Belles,” “The Dixie Swim Club” and “Dashing Through the Snow,” all of which have been performed to sold-out audiences across the region.

“Rex’s Exes” is the sequel to “The Red Velvet Cake War,” which made its world premiere at JCCT in October 2010. The Verdeen cousins of Sweetgum, Texas — Gaynelle, Peaches and Jimmie Wyvette — are back and, once again, teetering on the brink of disaster.

Gaynelle refuses to accept the fact that she is about to turn 50, Peaches claims she is being haunted by her late husband, and Jimmie has opened a new business called “Wide Bride” that sells wedding dresses for plus-sized women.

But deep dark family secrets are about to be revealed when a man from the past shows up on the Verdeens’ doorstep with a Cajun bounty hunter in hot pursuit. Throw in a visit from the Third Lady of Texas (the First Lady and Second Lady were busy), a psychic named Gentle Harmony, Mama Doll and the 80-year-old-neighbor who still enjoys a game of “strip hide-and-seek” with elderly Uncle Aubrey, and turning 50 will be the furthest thing from Gaynelle’s mind, especially when her house is suddenly under attack by an angry “Wide Bride” customer with a paintball gun.

“Rex’s Exes” stars Betty Casey, Angela Dannhardt, Dottie Davis, Donna Deason, Brent Edwards, C.J. Ferguson, Sabra Hayden, Rachel Helvey, Lisa Love, Joy Nagy, Debbie Shoun and Thomas Townsend.

Shannon Skinner is the stage manager, Stefani Murphy is assistant stage manager, David Hyde is technical director, and crew members are Emily Barnes, Andy Dannhardt, Katy Libby, Richard Lura, Brad McCracken, Nancy Oakley, Camesha Stevens and Kari Tuthill.

In addition to several cast members reprising their roles from “The Red Velvet Cake War,” the show also features a number of new players, which falls right in line with JCCT’s goal of making the community theatre more accessible to anyone who wants to participate, Townsend said.

It’s one of several aspirations Townsend has for JCCT, where he got his first taste of theatre in 1984 as a chorus member in “Annie Get Your Gun.”

“That was my first time on stage outside of church or school,” said Townsend, an Elizabethton native who earned his bachelor’s degree from Milligan College and his master’s degree from East Tennessee State University. “I’ve been lucky enough since college that I’ve been a professional actor, director and writer.”

Townsend has performed in theatre, television and film all over the United States, including Theatre IV in Richmond, Va., the Eugene O’Neil Theatre in New York and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. While living in Chicago, he received training in both classical theatre and improvisational comedy. In 2005-2006, he taught English in Dongyiing, Shandong, China, where, as part of his course work, he directed his students in adaptations of traditional Appalachian stories of the Jack Ta l e s .

He returned to East Tennessee with his wife Kallie to begin a family.

“We wanted to give our kids a chance to learn the same values that both she and I learned growing up in small towns in the South,” he said. “When [JCCT] said they needed someone to step up as theatre manager, I put my hat in the ring and they said come on. Back in the ’90s, I worked there quite a bit with some friends, and a lot of the people who taught me theater that have passed on now were there, so it’s like going home.

“The best thing about being there right now is that the executive board that they have is all volunteers, but they’re real go-getters. It’s people that know that if Johnson City Community Theatre can live up to its reputation of being the oldest continually running theatre group in the state, we’ve got to step up the game.”

Townsend said JCCT will offer education classes for adolescents and teenagers beginning in June, and also has plans to present some kid-friendly shows in the near future.

“We’re looking at expanding what Johnson City Community Theatre does as far as outreach to the community and making sure that we have a more vital presence out there,” he said. “We’ve got a growing number of young theatre people and they’re making inroads into getting a younger audience in there, some younger directors, younger actors, and that really energizes everything, so it’s about keeping the traditions that we have, but not being afraid of the growing pains that are ahead.”

Tickets to “Rex’s Exes” are $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors (55 and up). Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling (423) 926-2542 or visiting www.jcct.info  . Courtesy of Johnson City Community Theatre

A man from the past shows up on the Verdeens’ doorstep in ‘Rex’s Exes,’ the latest comedy from playwrights Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, opening Friday at Johnson City Community Theatre.

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