The image which lingers with me after the opening night of Backyard Fruit is that local theater stalwart Carla Pridgen here has done her best work, passionate and nuanced, leavened with the humor which has always been her strong point.
The opening night audience saw her come of age as an actress. Backyard Fruit is a generous vehicle for good actors, for Sarah Carpenter, who turns from a depressed fatty housewife to a svelte spiritual lesbian before our eyes, and for writer-director-star Andy Corren, an eastern Carolina actor/playwright/screenwriter who has given himself the rare opportunity to present and direct his own autobiography in front of a room of approving strangers.
Corren's homo bubba Clay, fleeing from the cops in some East Carolina dive, rings on every surface with verisimilitude and pathos.
The idea of ANOTHER gay coming-of-age in the Christian South saga did not fill me with enthusiasm, but it turns out that Backyard Fruit takes itself no more seriously than it needs to, and brims with sly wit, elegant social critique, precise characterization, sex sweetly balanced between the sublime and the lascivious, plus the occasional outright knee-slapper.
Both the best bit–Senator No–and the least successful bit–the slimming saga of the closet lesbian–don't really belong in this play, though they are both so well done nobody was likely to care. My tiny, lingering objection comes from the fact that Backyard Fruit arrives at an uncomfortable cross between play and review, or, as they say in the theater biz, "a series of related one-acts," quite entertaining, but less fully imagined, less fully powered, than a full-dress play might be.
I suppose that last comment is mostly for the playwright, the observation that this really wonderful material and his undoubted talent have not discovered each other as fully as they might.
To the people on the other side of the lights, no such thing matters that much because the evening is so much fun and Mr. Corren is obviously enjoying himself so much. I haven't heard such smart sparkle and pop in dialogue from a new script in a very long time.