Laundry & Bourbon / Lone Star
nytheatre.com review by Ross Chappell
February 9, 2006
Have you ever longed for small-town life in early '70s Texas? Even if you haven’t, this evening of one-act plays has humor for bumpkins and city slickers alike. Although the production struggles with some problems and inconsistencies, it’s enjoyable and the talent here clearly demonstrates the extraordinary potential of this young theatre company, even if it doesn’t quite live up to it.
James McLure’s two one-acts (Laundry & Bourbon followed by Lone Star) are set in Maynard, Texas (population: 953, according to the program) in 1972. The characters in these two stories are all connected in one way or another, one of the hallmarks of small-town life. In Laundry & Bourbon, a quiet housewife, Elizabeth, folds clothes while loud neighbor Hattie keeps her company and town gossip Amy Lee drops by for a visit. In Lone Star, Elizabeth’s husband, Ray, reminisces outside the local honky-tonk with his brother, Roy, and tries to rid himself of the incessantly annoying Cletis, who happens to be Amy Lee’s husband. Although often predictable, both pieces have plenty of memorable lines; some are funny, some poignant.
Laundry & Bourbon: There is plenty to like about this first piece, which bounces from the inane (Hattie yells at someone on Let’s Make a Deal, “Chickens don’t have bangs!”) to the occasionally introspective (Elizabeth serenely describes first awakening to her husband’s affection, “He taught me my body.”). In the end, it feels mostly like being a fly on the wall while perfectly preserved small-town banter and gossip is batted back and forth. It’s a funny and somewhat accurate snapshot of small-town life, but its moments of substance are few. As Elizabeth, Jennifer Laine Williams steals every quiet moment and practically holds the audience hostage. She does an outstanding job of subtly projecting a range of emotions (slightly forlorn, slightly resigned) and inhabits this character believably and completely. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Ellen Dolan’s Amy Lee. Dolan has the stock-character shtick of the town gossip down cold, and she is so good at it and so funny that it’s almost creepy (“There aren’t many fun things a Baptist can do without risking damnation.”). Lost in the middle is Robin Suzukawa as Hattie. She’s undeniably funny, but I wanted her to either create a wholly believable character or to really throw herself into the caricature side of Hattie’s loud-mouth persona. She falls somewhere in the lukewarm middle.
Lone Star: As silly as this second piece can be (complete with beer-gargling and the comparison of a Baby Ruth to a “turd”), it’s actually slightly more sober than the first. Ray and Roy’s redneck evening consists of sitting outside the honky-tonk, “playing Vietnam” like two small boys playing “war,” then reveling in the history and wonder of Roy’s pink 1959 Thunderbird. When Ray makes a surprise revelation to his brother, though, it leads to a re-examination of reality for both of them. The performances echo those in the first piece. Avi Glickstein (Roy) is so believable and adorable as the sidekick younger brother that he sucks the audience into the world he inhabits. His movement is so remarkable that it would be easy to believe he’s been playing the character for years. Dustin Olson, as the nerdy Cletis (“don’t call me Skeeter”), is hilarious, and his histrionics are great fun to watch. Jason Fraser (Ray) has some truly wonderful moments, but gets lost at times in the caricature of a drunk cowboy. The problem is that the play needs him to be three-dimensional for the entire duration or not at all.
Director Janice Goldberg has paced both plays well. Both she and the performers do a solid job making use of a small playing space. Deb Olson’s costumes serve both the humor and the pathos of the show. Robin A. Paterson’s lighting is subtle and blends the two pieces together in several ways, including a lovely starry-night effect that does wonders in stretching a very small space. The set depicts the two scenes well, but causes a number of headaches for the actors and winds up detracting from the show. I sympathized with the actors as they dealt with a screen door that wouldn’t stay closed, a porch post that wobbled, and a chair that collapsed. (Perhaps some of these problems have already been fixed.) Wes Hightower’s original music, played and sung nicely by Amos Crawley, serves effectively to bookend this evening of theatre.
In all, this is an entertaining evening (with a lot of talent) that falls somewhat short of its potential. Though marred by a bit of indecision and a few technical problems, this production is still enjoyable and certainly worth seeing. One note: The Bridge Theatre Company’s last outing, Making Marilyn, was phenomenal, engaging, and demonstrated a willingness to take risks. Although they may have fallen slightly short on this project, it’s fair to say that this young company has much to offer and is worth watching in the future.