As the lead of "A Southern Exposure," actress Freda Ramsey is quite eager to introduce her character, Hattie, to East Texas audiences.
Hattie is grandmother to Callie Belle (Audrey Ahern), whom she has raised from childhood following the death of the girl's parents. Callie has become dead set on claiming her independence by declaring she's fallen in love and moving to New York City, but Hattie isn't ready to let go just yet and is determined not to let her fragile family fall apart.
The experience of playing Hattie has been an enriching one, Ramsey said.
"I fill myself up with Hattie," she said. "I try to be as honest with her as I can. She's a little cheesy and she's a gossip, so she has all the foibles of any woman her age. She's prideful. She's so proud of her granddaughter, even though she doesn't really show it a lot."
It's also been an intensely personal journey as well, as Hattie's experience has been quite similar to Ramsey's own.
"I have two daughters of my own that are 21 and 18, and I am about to be an empty-nester. One has already moved away to go to college and my other daughter is in her senior year (of high school)," she said. "I grew up in West Texas and I had eight aunts on one side and one on the other, I just really know these people. They're very down-to-earth and it's all about etiquette and manners and eating, and getting her married off to the right guy."
That intrinsic desire by parents to see their daughter married off is another characteristic Ramsey closely identifies with.
"I think it goes with the kind of upbringing this woman has had. I know my own mother, I think of her very often as I'm playing this character," Ramsey said. "I can remember her when I turned 16, she was like, ‘Honey, it's all downhill from here. You need to just find a man and get married so I can sleep at night. I can't die until you find a husband!' It's that kind of attitude. There are so many things about Hattie that I (identify with). It's just been a wonderful discovery."
Ramsey called the play (written and directed by Kelley Kingston-Strayer) a celebration of this family and the trials that define and refine them.
"The relationships are the most important thing. The dialogue is so rich. It's the celebration of these women's relationships and this grandmother and this daughter who have struggled," she said. "The grandmother has struggled to raise her and they both go through so much change. The grandmother giving up her overbearing ways and letting her granddaughter making her own decisions. And the granddaughter moves from being incredibly selfish and self-centered, to blooming into a wonderful woman."
The play is character-driven, but it still is very much a comedy, Ramsey said, bittersweet as many of the laughs may be, which makes it feel honest.
"Comedy, it has to come from honesty," she said. "Everything about comedy has to be a surprise. I forget which actor from England said it but, ‘Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.' And that's really the truth."
Though it may be set in Kentucky, Ramsey said it's none the less relatable to anyone from any part of the South, so genuine is its depiction of these characters.
"I think the audience will get a feel for these people. They are unassuming. They are naïve. But they are strong people," she said.
"A Southern Exposure" opens at 7:30 tonight at Liberty Hall in downtown Tyler. Additional performances will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and Nov. 9. Local veteran actress Frances will also star in the show.
For more information or for tickets, visit www.damselflypublishers.com.