The art of the improbable premise is a standard at any Fringe Festival. What counts is not the unlikely starting point, but how one develops and delivers from the unreasonable setup. Miss Magnolia Beaumont Goes to Provincetown (presented at the 1423 Vine venue), written and performed by Joe Hutcheson and directed by Cheryl King, shows that style, imagination, intelligence, heart, talent and daring are what make such productions worth the gamble. In fact, these elements make any art worth creating and sharing with an audience of strangers.
The show opens with Hutcheson, a gay man in his mid-30s, announcing in a genteel Southern accent, that he is Miss Magnolia Beatrice Deveraux Beaumont, a debutante. We quickly learn that (1) Miss Beaumont lived in Atlanta prior to the Civil War; (2) she died from a piece of pork lodged in her throat during a barbeque on her family’s plantation; (3) she has found herself possessing the mind and (increasingly) the bodily sensations of Joe, who lives in present day New York; and (4) Joe is on his way for a birthday vacation in Provincetown, Mass.
Miss Beaumont, at first, cannot communicate with Joe, but soon becomes able to trade words and barbs with him, and the 90-minute conflict between a socially tentative urban homosexual and a self-assured, but overly proper Southern belle begins. The script is smart and lyrical, although Hutcheson downplays the intelligence and verbal competence of his own namesake to tilt the balance in favor of the eloquent Miss Beaumont. Still, it’s nice to hear fine language onstage, even if it’s there in part to be made sport of. Hutcheson occasionally allows himself a few fine lines; my favorite: “Maybe my singleness is my salvation.”
Hutcheson’s bio and performance onstage show him to be an experienced and solid performer. His rendition of Georgia on My Mind, which takes place in silly, seedy piano bar, allows him to show off a fine singing voice as well.
If there are any elements to complain of, it might be mentioned that a few of Hutcheson’s character realizations are a little standard for contemporary theater, but considering the high level of storytelling and characterization, this is a minor quibble.
Audiences might also want to be cautioned that there is some very brief nudity in the show and the performance space is gallery-style with no raised stage, which makes sightlines from the last rows a little tricky. (I guess if you want to see the show without the nudity, you should sit in the back.) Either way, this is the Cincinnati Fringe at its best, and this production rightly deserves the awards it has taken at sister festivals in New York City and elsewhere.