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The New Depot Players take audiences along on a joy ride in their latest vehicle, “Tradin’ Paint,” opening March 31.
For all the “Yankees and atheists” out there — terms the Flagwoman, played by Amy Johnson, uses to describe the NASCAR world unenlightened — “tradin’ paint” is when stock cars bump against each other during a race. Members of that group fear not, the Bristol Speedway is just backdrop for a comedy with heartfelt depth.
The story centers on Darla Frye, played adeptly by Megan DeMarco, a high school drop out who’s fraught with deep-seated insecurities traced back to her daddy abandoning her when she was 4 and her mother turning to Jack Daniels for comfort. Her boyfriend, redneck Neanderthal and dogcatcher Coty Webb, played by the fearless Scott Mills, uses Darla for her fried chicken to supply his race day ritual of hurling chicken bones at the track.
During her journey, Darla runs into a cast of unexpected characters that help her change lanes. Lucky Tibbs, crew chief and wife of lovable stock car sensation Skeeter Jett, is Darla’s polar opposite in self-esteem and “learns” her how to change a tire when Darla is stranded with a flat, sparking an empowering conversion. Lucky and Skeeter are played by the charming and scene-stealing actors Amanda Wilson and Paul Casola, who embody racing’s dynamic duo to perfection. Chemistry and laughs are in high gear during the couple’s first meeting.
Another influence in Darla’s transformation is her adult education teacher Dr. Hallie Smoot, a gay, black, NASCAR-loving college professor, played by Nat Martin. As Smoot’s lover, Jack, played brilliantly in his brief appearance by Duck Kingsenamongkhol, puts it “everyone here is so extremely odd you fit right in.” Kingsenamonkhol also plays racetrack bruiser Pierce Garbarino. Smoot is a solid “straight” man to his co-stars’ high-jinks. Smoot and Darla bond after some of her essays, such as comparing and contrasting historical figures Dale Earnhardt and Jesus Christ, catch his attention.
Darla crosses the finish line of confronting her issues after a near-death episode. In a dream sequence, Smoot appears to her alternately as God, Dale Earnhardt and her daddy. Coty and Smoot are also aboard on the revelation front.
First-time director Tom Johnson, an NDP acting veteran, selected the play after reading over 30 scripts. “People will come for the comedy but they will leave with something else,” he said. Johnson summed up the Flagwoman’s conclusion, “Just as a race is about to be over you’re already getting ready for the next one…it’s a symbol of hope and opportunity to find your destiny; there’s always another chance to take a risk.”
“Tradin’ Paint,” written by Catherine Bush, is playing March 31, April 1 - 2, 7-9 at 8 p.m. and April 3 and 10 at 3 p.m. at Center Street Arts at 910 Center St., Conyers. General admission is $20 and seniors/students tickets are available for $16. To purchase tickets, go to www.thenewdepotplayers.com or call (678) 374-3224.