Cooking With Lard, Lifeline Theatre. In the tradition of Steel Magnolias and Fried Green Tomatoes, playwrights Cindy Hanson and Cheryl Norris offer an affectionate portrait of a town where generations have grown up knowing everything about one another, resulting in unyielding collective strength and a steady stream of vicious gossip. In keeping with the genre, women bind the community together (16 characters are portrayed by the gifted Katie McLean, Dorothy Milne, Kathleen Powers, and Martie Sanders), and the action centers around a gathering place: Addie’s Cafe, home of weekly bingo games, drill team practice, and the best mashed potatoes in town.

With its usual care, Lifeline has sweated every down-home detail of this world premiere. Even before the lights come up, Steve Carmody’s classic country sound track transports you southward. You can practically smell the fat frying on Ann Bartek’s diner set and see dust blowing on the dirt road outside its picture window (if you look past the vegetarian protester). Every one of Jane Bagnall’s costumes and wigs fits both the character and the actress beautifully and somehow accommodates the lightning-fast changes that might turn a single actress into a bucktoothed cheerleader, a stress-addicted Baptist mother, and an abused wife. While Hanson and Norris should consider trimming some speeches, the story flows, even the extreme characters ring true, and the drill team choreography with inflatable Oscar Mayer wieners makes you proud to be an American. Warm and sweet as hot apple pie.

–Kim Wilson