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'Garden Club' blooms on the OST stage

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WORTHINGTON -- Okoboji Summer Theatre is back for another successful summer, and the second play of the season will leave audiences with smiles and thinking about a trip to their local garden center.

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"The Girls of the Garden Club" by John Patrick uses "Golden Girls" humor and a green thumb to bring the audience to their feet on opening night. This quick-witted play is directed by Suzy Messerole and supported by a cast that gives an uproarious performance, perfect for summer.

Gillian West plays the lead role of Rhoda, a woman who is set on getting her own greenhouse for her plants, which consume a large portion of the stage. Rhoda insists that even the White House has a greenhouse. Her husband's reply is that when Rhoda becomes president, he will buy her a greenhouse. Rhoda becomes determined to become president, not of the country. but of the garden club of which she is a member. To accomplish this goal, Rhoda must win the garden show and kick the privileged Lillybelle (Cait-Elise Vandiver) out of office. It comes down to the garden show in which Rhoda and Lillybelle are both entering Sleeping Virgins -- plants found only in the King's Garden in Burma. When Rhoda's Sleeping Virgin begins to talk, it starts off a string of silly events that leave the presidency and Rhoda's greenhouse on the line.

It was easy to laugh at -- and relate to -- the different dynamics that constantly took place on stage. Family dynamics between Rhoda and her teenage daughter, Marigold (Jenny Massey-Brown), are never without the frustrating generation gap, while Rhoda's silent husband (Lucas McVey) is chased and hustled out of every chair and room of the flower-filled house. The group dynamics between the women who gather to gossip about gardening are as interesting as each of the many colorful women on stage. Their fluid interactions were natural, and relating them to the people in your life will be automatic.

Everyone has the boisterous friend who you could hear across a football stadium, and Michelle Wilke captures that enthusiasm in Dede, a woman who insists on speaking to flowers as though they were small children. It was hard to keep attention off Stephanie Chapman, who plays a feisty old woman named Birdie. The way she walks, her quick, twisted humor and her tendency to fall instantly asleep brought a smile out of the audience every time. The group would not be complete without the role of Rhoda's best friend, Cora (Kaitie Huffman), who keeps the group as down-to-earth as she can.

Each quirky character was brought to life by a talented cast that fits together like a brilliant bouquet. Costume designer Katie Johancen seemed to have a floral arrangement in mind, because each of the colorful, '70s-style outfits had many audience members reminiscing and the rest laughing.

"The Girls of the Garden Club" will have you laughing even if you don't know a carnation from a cactus. There are nightly showings of "The Girls of the Garden Club" through Sunday.

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