"The Cover of Life,” by R.T. Robinson, is onstage at Cambria’s Pewter Plough Playhouse. A strong play based on true events, it begins as a lighthearted, stereotypical slice of life in 1943 in a rural Louisiana town.
Three brothers have enlisted and gone overseas, while their wives have moved in with their husbands’ mother. The New Orleans Times-Picayune has picked up the story from a local paper and it has come to the attention of Henry Luce, editor of Life magazine, who sees it as a piece of timely fluff that might make a good cover story.
Because he sees it as a “women’s story,” he assigns it to one of his few woman reporters, Kate, a seemingly hardboiled foreign correspondent, reluctant to head for the bayou country to interview and photograph the young women.
Toni Young, as Kate, speaks to the audience to open the play. She comes across as tough and even callous, but as the scenario unfolds, she softens and becomes a pivotal character.
The first act of the play introduces the wives, cute and comical as they are blown away by the idea of being a Life cover, and as Kate gets acquainted with the quaint colloquialisms of the South, making it clear that she doesn’t want to be called “Ma’am.” But as she gets to know the women, their foibles and troubles surface, and the second act turns serious, even tragic. Sandy Bosworth directs the excellent cast. The characters are well- developed, and the dialogue is clever and insightful.
The wives are Weetsie, Tood, and Sybil, and each one has a distinct self-image and her own dream of the future. Their mother-in-law, called Aunt Ola, has had her image forced upon her over the years by a domineering, womanizing husband.
Weetsie, played by M.J. Johnson, is ready to settle down into the local pattern when her husband comes home, looking forward to domesticity and his partnership with his older brother in a tackle shop.
Tood, who is pregnant, has other ideas, and as she gets to know Kate, she realizes that there might be more to life than the family rut. She dreams of breaking out of the stifling brothers’ togetherness and moving away with her own little family.
Angela Hutt-Chamberlin is engaging as she reveals Tood’s process of self- discovery. Michael Dexter is sweet as her husband, seen mostly in “dream” moments. The little brother, he aspires to prove himself.
Nicki Barnes, as Sybil, is intense in both humorous and dramatic moments. Sybil considers herself above the others as she struts and preens, feeling sexy, glamorous and modern. But when things get serious, she becomes touching.
Janice Peters plays Aunt Ola, feisty and sharp-tongued, especially when touchy subjects come up. She becomes sympathetic as facts about her philandering, redneck husband are mentioned, and she admits concerns that her sons will be just like him. The status of women in the 1940s is an important subtext of the play, often used in clever and comic dialogue with ironic undertones.
Kate’s “guide” to the rural community is Addie Mae Magoo, the local news reporter and “a font of minutia.” Sharyn Young, in flamboyant dresses and funny hats, makes her a colorful character.
Playwright R.T. Robinson based the play on his mother’s experiences in Louisiana in the 1940s. She was called Tood.
IF YOU GO
"The Cover of Life"
7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through May 18
Pewter Plough Playhouse, 824 Main St., Cambria
$19 to $21
927-3877 or www.pewter ploughplayhouse.org