The regional premiere brings a new audience to an ageless love story
Based on the book Eleanor and Abel by Annette Sanford, the stage version of Fireflies transports the audience to Groverdell, Texas immediately upon stepping into the theatre. The show takes place in the kitchen of Eleanor Bannister (Deborah Persoff), who lives alone in her home — aside from the constant surveillance and interference of her neighbor. When the audience joins her, Eleanor’s home and honeymoon cottage are in desperate need of some repair.
The Vintage Theatre is the perfect place to put on this show. Like the comforting nature of the play, the Vintage Theatre caters to its crowd. The walls are lined with local art, there’s a full bar in the corner, and the hallways between theaters have photos of the shows that have come before. It perfectly sets the mood for a romantic comedy such as Fireflies.
Directed by Bernie Cardell, Fireflies hits the notes of both a bedtime story and a comedy — topped with a sweet Southern glaze. The story follows Eleanor, who hears gossip of a conman slithering his way across Texas. This is question is Abel Brown (Verl Hite), a handyman who manages to charm the level-headed Eleanor. They make a deal: If Abel fixes Eleanor’s honeymoon cottage, he can park his trailer there. Which seems simple enough …
The set design by Matthew S. Crane has plenty of Southern charm. From the red cookbook atop the refrigerator to the seven boxes of cereal in the pantry, the audience is given a third seat at Eleanor’s kitchen table.
The kitchen is central to the show. Each scene takes place over something delicious: a glass of lemonade, a slice of cake, bologna sandwiches.
Of the characters, the most crucial to the show is Abel. He is the subject of the town’s gossip, often represented as a conman and a drifter. From the beginning of the show, neighbor Grace Bodell (Mary Campbell) warns Eleanor of Abel’s intentions to steal the hearts and wallets of old maids. The audience is given no reason to trust Abel, but his charming personality and sunny disposition convince us otherwise. Hite has crafted, through the scuff of a cowboy boot and a crooked brow, a character one can’t help but love. With a few well-placed jokes, Abel could have conned the whole theater.
Abel’s sly charm is perfectly balanced by the shrewd Eleanor. Persoff plays the character exceedingly well. She is the pristine image of a teacher: smart, patient and uncompromising. The true power of Persoff’s performance is its subtlety. She can express the most complex emotions with a swivel of her neck. Cat-like, she moves across the stage, wary of the new people who come across it.
The performances of Campbell and Eugene Claymire put the cherry on top in this production. Campbell’s over-the-top “Texas” accent is hilarious. Claymire’s depiction of Brandon Billings, a cop who is somewhat aloof, perfectly contrasts the strict professionalism of Eleanor. Together, the cast portrays a delicious slice of Texas life.
The best moment of the play comes in the last moments where Fireflies cements itself in the hearts of the audience. Every moment of frustration as the plot unfolds is worth the sticky-sweet ending.