Cleland infuses charm into ‘Mamaw Jo’s’

Published: 12:00 AM, Thu December, 6 2018

By Eric McCrea


Kandace Cleland, artistic director of Stage Left Players, has a knack for writing warm, small-town shows with broad appeal, and “Christmas at Mamaw Jo’s Stop-N-Go!” is some of her finest work.

At the core of the show is Mamaw Jo, played by Kay McMillan, who shows up to open her squirrel-infested convenience store every day, even Christmas Eve.

Her daughter Kasey (Cleland) does most of the heavy lifting these days, sending her sons out on service calls, keeping Nosey Rosie (Kari Lankford) out of the deep end and reconciling her feelings for her ex-husband’s twin brother.

If that isn’t enough, a mysterious stranger arrives in need of guidance. Luckily, Kasey has plenty of guidance coming her way to spread around.

Lots of great devices are packed into “Christmas at Mamaw Jo’s Stop-N-Go!” and they’re executed well under Cleland’s direction.

The script brushes past a few plot points, leaving the audience behind. It was nearly the second act when I figured out why no one was acknowledging Papaw.

While it’s set on Christmas Eve, in many ways this musical could be staged year-round, without losing its charm.

This show has a lot going on, but it is not over-stuffed with music, so it clocks in under two hours.

Original songs written by Jodine Pilmer with lyric by Clelland were at times funny, energetic and sentimental. “Hark! Harold the Angel Sings” featured the younger cast members and was a funny close to the first act.

David DePanicis and Jacob Ward were the definition of buddies as brothers Darrell and Timmy. Their duet “Little Debbie Did the Bakin’” was fast paced and loaded with hilarious lyrics.

Reagan Smith and Niki Slaven used their beautiful voices to harmonize with Cleland and Lankford in the carol-worthy “Peace.”

“One Last Avenger” was complex and layered, and showcased the musical talents of almost the whole cast.

Cleland lead the cast confidently, as if she was used to keeping a big cast, or family, organized. Her approach to the emotional moments of the story was subtle and nuanced.

McMillan was a riot as Mamaw Jo, especially when she was going after the squirrels.

David Humphrey pulled double duty as twins Clyde and Alan. He was great at physical comedy, with a hilarious costume stunt, but his accent was inconsistent at times.

Logan Wood, Marshall Hall and Bryce Wood were surprisingly professional and precocious playing the young McClelland boys.

Stage Left Players production of “Christmas at Mamaw Jo’s Stop-n-Go!” continues at Trinity Playhouse, 234 E. Lincoln Way, Lisbon at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For reservations, call 330-831-7249.