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Georgia Mountain Players' Wedding Belles a southern delight
Dianne Martin, from left, Peggy Strickland, Linda Smith, Rhonda Brown and Jene Robocker are among the Georgia Mountain Players cast members in “Wedding Belles,” the new production opening this weekend at the Georgia Mountains Center in Gainesville.

‘Wedding Belles’
When: 8 p.m. today-Saturday and Feb. 25-26; 2:30 p.m. Sunday and Feb. 27
Where: Georgia Mountains Center, 301 Main St. SW, Gainesville
How much: $16 adults, $12 seniors, students and children
More info: 770-534-8420

There might be one thing women love to plan more than a garden party, and that’s a full-blown wedding.

Which is why, when Southern ladies Laura Lee, Bobrita, Violet and Glendine quickly took wayward soul, the young Ima Jean, under their wings, the four older garden club members changed plans for the day. Instead of getting together for their garden club meeting, they decided to give this girl a proper wedding.

The story, "Wedding Belles," is the latest production by the Georgia Mountain Players, the Gainesville-based troupe known for bringing sweet and sincere comedies and musicals to town.

"Wedding Belles" is written by Alan Bailey and Ronnie Claire Edwards; Bailey penned "Smoke on the Mountain," which the Mountain Players have performed for 18 years straight, and Edwards is better known for her role as Corabeth Walton in the TV show "The Waltons."

It was Bailey who ended up contacting Mike Martin, the show’s director, after Bailey found out "Smoke on the Mountain" was such a long-standing tradition, and told Martin about his new play, "Wedding Belles."

Now, the Mountain Players are one of the first theater groups to produce the show, Martin said.

The story, Martin said, involves Ima Jean, a young woman who grew up in an orphanage. She’s waiting at the bus stop for her fiance to return from war so they can run off and get married. But when one of the women discovers Ima Jean and her situation — she doesn’t even have a proper wedding dress! — "she brings her home and these ladies decide she can’t elope; she has to have a proper wedding," Martin said.

The play takes place in one day in 1942, so the hustle and bustle of planning a wedding quickly begins.

"There’s wedding planning, finding a dress," he said. "It’s typical Southern women of any era. ... It’s priceless."

Peggy Strickland, who plays the orphaned Ima Jean, said her character isn’t quite sure what to make of all the fuss the ladies are making.

"She’s pretty overwhelmed, because she was left alone in the orphanage," she said. "As I tell them, ‘You have no idea how lucky you are to have each other.’"

Strickland also has a personal connection to the show — her parents were married in 1947, around the same era when the play takes place. As a result, she has a special surprise from her own family planned for her character to reveal.

One of the garden club members, Bobrita, is played by Dianne Martin, who said her character acts like the "bossy" big sister.

"It’s just like sisters," she explained, adding that her character is most likely to order one of her friends to answer the phone, even when Bobrita is sitting right next to it. "I’m the bossy one."

Jene Robucker compared her character, Glendine, to the "Rue McClanahan" of the show, referencing the free-wheeling, always-dating character from the TV sitcom "The Golden Girls."

"Energetic — that would be a good word," she said of her character’s personality.

The stage at the Mountains Center has been transformed into an overgrown garden, but Martin said by the time the play hits its climax, the backyard scene undergoes another complete transformation.

And backstage, the ladies are sharing space with buckets of silk roses, daisies and other flowers. Some were culled from the Players’ own arsenal of props, while others came from the collections of cast and board members.

Without giving away the ending — where there is also some confusion about where Ima Jean’s fiance has gone — the set is something to behold, Martin and Robocker said.

"The transformation of this stage at the end, " Robocker said, "it’s amazing what it becomes."