In “Southern Comforts,” a Yankee Widower and a Southern Widow Get a Second Chance at Love

JoAnne Dickinson as Tennessee widow Amanda Cross and John Murphy  as New Jersey widower Gus Klingman (photo by Ronald A. Foreman)
JoAnne Dickinson as Tennessee widow Amanda Cross and John Murphy  as New Jersey widower Gus Klingman (photo by Ronald A. Foreman)

JoAnne Dickinson as Tennessee widow Amanda Cross and John Murphy  as New Jersey widower Gus Klingman (photo by Ronald A. Foreman)
JoAnne Dickinson as Tennessee widow Amanda Cross and John Murphy as New Jersey widower Gus Klingman (photo by Ronald A. Foreman)

University Theatre at N.C. State will present Southern Comforts, a 2006 two-character romantic comedy by Kathleen Clark, on June 2, 3, 5, 8, 10-12, 15, 18, and 19 in the Kennedy-McIlwee Studio Theatre in Frank Thompson Hall on the NCSU campus. The second of three plays presented as part of TheatreFest 2011: Southern Comfort, Southern Comforts will be performed, in rotating repertory, with The Dixie Swim Club by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten (June 4, 5, 9, and 12) and WMKS, Where Music Kills Sorrow, by Frank Higgins (June 16, 17, 19, and 22-26).

University Theatre director John C. McIlwee says, “[Southern Comforts] was selected for the TheatreFest summer season by [our] staff, and then the seasonal theme was suggested by its title. It fit perfectly into the mission to deliver light Summer entertainment for our audiences. The play is a sweet ‘slice-of-life’ series of scenes set in a small New Jersey town visited by a sassy southern belle from Tennessee.”

He adds, “[Common Ground Theatre managing director] Rachel Klem, who had such a success directing the popular A Murder Is Announced in last year’s TheatreFest, was asked to return and direct this piece.”

When the curtain rises on Southern Comforts, McIlwee says, “A vivacious grandmother from Tennessee (JoAnne Dickinson), visiting in New Jersey, meets a taciturn Yankee widower (John Murphy); and they both are startled by a unexpected chance to fall in love once more. It isn’t always easy to change your expectations about how life should progress; but these two find that they are willing to give romance a second try. They laugh, cry, argue, and finally compromise as they move from strangers to spouses in the course of several months of light-hearted fun.”

In addition to director Rachel Klem, the University Theatre at N.C. State creative team for Southern Comforts will include technical director David Jensen, set designer John McIlwee, scenic artist and properties manager Jayme Mellema, lighting designer Paul Pharris, costume designer Jennifer Dasher, and stage manager Randall Rehfuss.

John McIlwee notes, “The set is a series of unconnected wall units, representing an old New Jersey Victorian house and set among black drapes, with a caption screen identifying the passage of time.”

He adds, “The lighting and sound effects represent everything from a sunny day to a torrential downpour, as the play progresses through the months; and the costumes are current and colorful for the Southern belle and dullish for the curmudgeonly widower.”

McIlwee reports, “The play is staged in the intimate Kennedy-McIlwee Studio Theatre at Thompson Hall, and that intimacy called for a stylized setting that is just perfect for the diminutive stage. Blocking two characters in the small space created by free-standing walls suggesting the old house of the widower required simplicity of movement and a great amount of attention being paid to the connection between the two actors.

“The chemistry [between John Murphy and JoAnne Dickinson] is evident and easy to see and enjoy,” says John McIlwee, “because of the closeness of the audience to the performers — the audience is practically sitting in the living room!”

University Theatre at N.C. State presents SOUTHERN COMFORTS at 7:30 p.m. June 2 and 3; 2 p.m. June 5; 7:30 p.m. June 8, 10-12, 15, and 18; and 2 p.m. June 19 in the Kennedy-McIlwee Studio Theatre in Frank Thompson Hall, on E. Dunn Ave. at Jensen Dr., in Raleigh, North Carolina 27607, on the NCSU campus.

TICKETS: $13-$15 ($5 NCSU students) per show, $33 for all three shows, and $26 for two shows.

BOX OFFICE: 919/515-1100 or






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Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).