Diva-licious: In TWTP’s Delval Divas, Crime Pays Very Well

Karen Stephens, Lela Elam, Jessica K. Peterson and Sally Bondi are various denizens of a lace collar women’s prison in Delval Divas at The Women’s Theatre Project/  Photo by Barry Garsson.

By Mary Damiano

Well-heeled, wealthy women while away their days getting their hair and nails done, working out, checking their stock portfolios online, reading and watching movies. The biggest decision they make each day is what food to have delivered: Sushi? Italian? Prime rib, perhaps?

They may sound like stereotypical society matrons, except these women don’t have the mansions that go along with their lavish lifestyles. Their home is Cell Block A of the Delaware Valley Federal Correctional Institution, where they are all convicts doing the time for committing a white collar crime.

That’s the premise of Delval Divas, a comedy by Barbara Pease Weber, which is getting a fun and frothy treatment by The Women’s Theatre Project (TWTP).

Sally Bondi, Jessica K. Peterson and Karen Stephens play the three divas—um, inmates. Jacqueline Laggy is their newly paroled suite-mate—um, cell mate, and Lela Elam is their friend and go-fer—um, prison guard. Having been convicted of computer hacking, insurance fraud, insider trading and the like, they’ve decided to make lemons into limoncello, treating their incarceration like an extended spa vacation. They’ve got the warden in their pocket and life is good.

Events take a turn when a blue-collar hairstylist accused of murder (Lisa Kerstin Braun) joins them in Cell Block A, and they get the troubling news that their vacay is about to end: The prison is scheduled to close, a move that will send the divas to the ominous-sounding Black Rock prison. Can they solve the mystery behind their new friend’s crime and save their beloved prison?

Delval Divas feels less like a play and more like a TV pilot for a weekly series. There’s no real conflict or subtext or question about how everything will turn out. The fun comes from watching the absurdity of the situation, and how the characters wisecrack their way through it.

Genie Croft’s direction keeps the mood light and breezy. The ensemble is entertaining, delivering the script’s one-liners with aplomb. Braun has the opportunity to give the most varied performance, as her character is the one who walks into this surreal situation and gets to evolve with it. Her reactions to the unusual prison lifestyle are wonderful.

Delval Divas is the first production stage in TWTP’s new home at the Willow Theatre in Sugar Sand Park in Boca Raton. The company formerly operated out of a tiny space in downtown Fort Lauderdale. While the mission is still producing plays by women, featuring women and for women, TWTP is now able to spread their wings with an impressive, detailed scenic design by Sean McClelland, the kind of set that would not have been possible in their former storefront venue.

Delval Divas is a laugh-out-loud funny show. There’s no big message, no deeper meaning, just two hours of fun. By the way, the scuttlebutt at Friday’s opening was that tickets were selling well and at least one weekend performance at the 155-seat theatre was just about sold out, so get your tickets fast to experience the Delval Divas first-hand.

Delval Divas runs through November 18 at the Willow Theatre in Sugar Sand Park, 300 S. Military Trail, Boca Raton. Performances 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Tickets are $25, call (561) 347-3948 or visit WillowTheatre.org. For more information about The Women’s Theatre Project, visit WomensTheatreProject.com.

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