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Theater review: 'Southern Comfort' at Theatre 40

December 18, 2009 |  2:45 pm

400.SC 0012 press copy Kathleen Clark’s charming two-hander, “Southern Comfort,” at Theatre 40, treats the late-life love between two seniors, both widowed, whose December-December romance takes a contentious turn or two en route to a happy ending.

Set in 1996, the play is, at first impression, deceptively uneventful:  Irascible oldster, Gus Klingman (Tim Hodgin) meets vivacious Tennessee widow, Amanda Cross (Jacqueline Scott), while Amanda is visiting her daughter in New Jersey. The two court, marry, and almost break up over a disagreement about burial arrangements.

However, surprisingly profound issues underlie Clark’s gentle comedy, including Clark’s insightful treatment of the plight of World War II veterans, “Greatest Generation” men who coped with the lingering horrors of combat as best they could in an era before post-traumatic stress disorder had been acknowledged and treated.

Also profound is Clark’s frank treatment of her characters’ encroaching mortality – an ever-present undercurrent frankly acknowledged by Gus and Amanda, but tempered by their consistent delight in each other’s company.  That mutual delight -- the full-blown romantic tension between two courageous individuals reinvigorated by a late-in-life love -- is as heartening as it is genuinely moving.

Paul Millet’s restrained staging is wisely unsentimental, as are the unfailingly entertaining performers. A veteran of the golden age of television, Scott is a formidable stage presence whose talent is undiminished by the decades.  Less recognizable but every bit as able, Hodgin astutely balances grumpiness and charm. Their unpretentious, slice-of-life performances strike the perfect note for Clark’s modest, touching play.

– F. Kathleen Foley

“Southern Comfort,” Theatre 40, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills.  8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday. Closes Sunday.  $23-$25.  (310) 364-0535.  Running time:  1 hour, 35 minutes.

Photo: Jacqueline Scott and Tom Hodgin. Credit: Ed Krieger

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