top of page

7/16/2023          INDEPENDENCE DAY AT HAPPY MEADOWS     Merely Players Presents



Pgm Independence.png

Movies have chronicled escapes for decades.   We’ve had escapes from New York, from L.A.,  from Pretoria, from Sobibor, from Alcatraz, from the Planet of the Apes, and even from Hell.  And, of course, the Grand-Daddy of all escape movies,  The Great Escape, with the lovely Steven McQueen and James Garner.


Where, I ask, are the theatrical analogues, the rip-snortin’ adventures, the let’s-get-outta-here comedies we long to grace our stages?  Even Hopes-Jones-and-Wooten have neglected the Escape From Texas opportunity.


Well, hold onto your catheters and your Jello cups, here comes Independence Day at Happy Meadows, a comedy about getting out, getting free, getting even, and getting home!


Welcome to Happy Meadows, a senior citizen residence that is run like a high security prison by its corrupt and greedy “Head Nurse” (not really a nurse), a woman who makes Nurse Ratched seem like Florence Nightingale.  To line her pockets and consolidate her power, she skims the accounts, leaving the residents with the worst possible food and the shoddiest possible living conditions.


Holly has had enough.  She plans on exploiting the annual July 4th festivities to steal a delivery truck and escape to her home farm.   She has just received word from her grandson that the farm is being sold and, with it, essentially her life’s story.  Her friends don’t want to be left behind.  Betty is an ex-mechanic who was

wasted by the army in the secretarial pool.  Mary is a rose-colored-glasses type, a Macon former debutante still living in the days of yore (surprisingly she never talks about that day she entertained all those gentlemen callers like another theatrical belle she brings to mind).  Shirley has few marbles left; confined to a wheelchair after too many hip surgeries, she’s lucky if she remembers where she is, but she sure as fire knows what she wants and who she can trust.  Maybe.


Their plan is haphazard to say the least, and one of the pleasures of this joyous piece is watching them stumble into success.  All it takes is a lot of gumption, the determination of the long-suffering, and a few fireworks.  Okay, the can of creamed corn and the bottle of home-made hootch don’t hurt.


I was at first a little skeptical of this – it seemed to be a play about old people written from the condescending perspective of a young person.  But researching playwright Laura King, I found out she is at least “of a certain age” if not older, and the play’s charms, humor, and characters began to take root in my memory.  If I had written this piece immediately after seeing it, I would not have been kind and that would not have been fair.


Sometimes, a comedy needs a few days to marinate, to let the very real laughs take root in my memory even as the eye-roll misses fade.  And this is a comedy that benefits from a large group of people in the same room, laughing at people like them (yes, Sunday’s audience did skew my age), cheering them on and booing the villain.


Kudos to this delightful cast – Julia Kneeland as Holly, Danon Dastugue as Betty, Nancy Lowery Powell as Mary, Carlene Archer-Bragg as Shirley, Lo-Mai Lai as Nurse Nasty – I mean Nurse Nancy – and Matthew Easter as Gus, the hapless (and kind-hearted) delivery driver who spends a lot of time unconscious and tied up – all find moments to shine, moments of heart, moments of breathtaking honesty.  Director Marla Krohn does a great job of negotiating the logistics of a wheelchair-bound character in a small playing area and keeping different locations isolated from each other.


So, yes, this a slight piece, but it is smart enough to keep most of the humor character-based, keeping the slapstick natural (and I presume safe), and keeping its heart in open view.  Yes, you can see the cliches and caricatures coming a mile off, but they are usually leavened with more than enough depth and surprise.  And, of course, any production that can generate laughs during scene transitions by the inclusion of battery-operated {Deleted by the Spoiler Police} deserves my Lighting Designer respect.


No  Independence Day at Happy Meadows is not great art.  It may not even be great theatre,  But it is a Great Escape from summer heat and daily drama.  And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!


     -- Brad Rudy (   #MerelyPlayersPresents  #IndependenceDayAtHappyMeadows

bottom of page