Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean wasn't on director Marler Stone's to-do list. The popular Memphis-area actor and director wanted to try his hand with Enemy of the People, Henrik Ibsen's jaundiced drama about corruption in a spa town whose entire economy is threatened by a contaminated water supply. Stone took his ambitious plan to the New Moon Theatre Company, thinking it would be a perfect fit for the TheatreWorks-based troupe well known for embracing difficult material and breathing new life into neglected classics. But New Moon likes to surprise, and things didn't turn out quite the way Stone had planned.
"The board had elected to do Jimmy Dean," he says, admitting he wasn't all that familiar with Ed Graczyk's 1976 melodrama about the Disciples of James Dean, an all-girl fan club hopelessly devoted to the Rebel Without a Cause actor. "At first, I told the cast this was a heavy drama and we wouldn't be holding for laughs. Last week, I told them we'd be holding for laughs," Stone says, allowing that he's developed an appreciation for the humor and an affection for the play, originally staged on Broadway by filmmaker Robert Altman, who went on to make the 1982 film version.
Hoping to better understand the script, Stone contacted Graczyk, who related a story about the time he visited Marfa, Texas, where James Dean shot his last film, Giant. There the playwright saw the decaying remains of the set. Shortly thereafter, the play's title came to him fully formed in a dream.
"We're going to be doing the play exactly the way he wants it done," says Stone, who would have had a much harder time bonding with Ibsen who died in 1906.