Valerie Perri and Whip Hubley in “Fireflies.” Photo by Steve Underwood

Is he a lurking con man or merely a handyman with benefits? Maybe he’s something else altogether. Such questions set the stage for Good Theater’s entertainingly down-to-earth season opener.

Matthew Barber’s 2017 play “Fireflies” takes us deep into the heart of small-town Texas where Eleanor, a proud but lonely retired schoolteacher, lives a life of quiet desperation to which she has reluctantly become accustomed. When nosy, if well-intentioned, neighbor Grace warns her of a suspicious drifter in town, we gradually learn that Eleanor has, somewhat embarrassingly, already met him and further employed him to repair a roof.

He’s “found his mark,” warns Grace as we are introduced to the attractive, if “a little cocky,” Abel. Eleanor perhaps too quickly claims him to be her opposite. But Abel slowly digs a little deeper into what he knows is an attraction between the two. Outwardly, they make a “business arrangement” for him to do further work on her property. Meanwhile, the fireflies observed by a nearby lake have begun their “mating dance.”

Director Brian P. Allen has assembled a starry cast from far and near to enliven this warm and funny visit to the Lone Star State circa the summer of 1995.

Valerie Perri, whose lengthy resume includes national tours of major Broadway shows, numerous film and TV appearances, and a visit to the Good Theater stage a few years back in “Admissions,” gives her Eleanor the requisite sense of a prideful woman living on the fading memories of decades-old romances. In an appealing performance, the actress convincingly brings an overwrought but not overmatched half to a late-in-life romance that beckons.

Local stage stalwart of late, but with film acting background, Whip Hubley is near perfectly cast as Abel, the charming drifter, or traveler as Abel prefers to be called. He’s a guy who knows who he is, though we learn he may not be as entirely pleased with himself as he initially appears.


Eleanor and Abel circle around each other, occasionally moving in for intimate moments and then back for defensive squabbles. Emotional buildups happen slowly but reach critical moments as they strive to make their ultimate story together a happy one. Both Perri and Hubley are impressively adept at working near the edges of their characters’ vulnerabilities and strengths.

Local favorite Grace Bauer plays neighbor Grace as a ditsy but ultimately loyal and sweet friend. She scores some of the biggest laughs with her own reflections on the realities of life and love for older women. University of Southern Maine theater alum Dalton Kimball works his slow but steady deputy sheriff Eugene, who’s a former pupil of Eleanor, through some laughable paces.

A modest interior set designed by Steve Underwood and casual costumes by Kathleen Kimball add important down-home elements to this under-two-hour show.

“Fireflies” may at times seem to be serving up a bit of theatrical comfort food. Nevertheless, the fine performances and the tender, thoughtful feelings brought out make it an excellent season opener for Good Theater.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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