1959 PINK THUNDERBIRD
Wild Life Theatre Company at the Heartland Cafe Studio Theatre
It's 1972, two years after Roy Caulder--once the hero of his high school class in Maynard, Texas--has returned from the Vietnam war to find everything he knows changed. About all he has left are memories of his glory days, his adoring younger brother Ray, his wife Elizabeth, and his now-crumbling 1959 pink Thunderbird.
That's the premise of Wild Life Theatre's production of James McLure's one-act play Lone Star. The crisis comes when, in one significant drunken evening, the last symbols of Roy's security are destroyed forever: Cletis Fullernoy, former class nerd turned successful businessman, usurps the precious car and wrecks it in a freakish accident, and Ray confesses that he had an affair with Elizabeth while Roy was away in the Army. "Why'd she choose you?" Roy asks wearily, and his little brother quietly replies, "Because I was your brother." This knowledge, of course, does little more to comfort Roy than the knowledge that Cletis's kamikaze joyride was spurred by long-dormant envy. But life goes on, and Roy must decide whether he's going to rejoin the parade or let it pass him by.
Laundry and Bourbon, the companion piece to Lone Star--McLure called the two plays together "1959 Pink Thunderbird"--is sort of a "prequel," though it takes place only a few days, or maybe a few hours, before the events of Lone Star. In Laundry and Bourbon, we learn a fact left out of Lone Star: Elizabeth is pregnant. The bulk of Laundry and Bourbon, however, is taken up with the squabbling of Elizabeth's old school chums, the vulgar Hattie and the snooty Amy Lee (Cletis's wife), while Elizabeth smiles patiently and vows silently to stand by her man.
"1959 Pink Thunderbird" contains the potential for microcosmic observation of the anguish of lost innocence in postwar America. But the actors in this production, with one exception, concentrate so hard on the mechanics of verbal interchange that they forget to play characters--thinking, feeling human beings with complex motives and social sentience. The three women in Laundry and Bourbon display none of the accepting camaraderie of women who have grown up together; Hattie gives the impression of being much older than Elizabeth, and Amy Lee much younger, though they are supposed to be the same age. In any event, Lisa M.R. Formosa and Caroline O'Malley play Hattie and Amy Lee so grotesquely broad (by contrast with Margie Barrett's bland, almost invisible Elizabeth) that the play begins to resemble an episode of the TV sitcom Alice. (The audience didn't seem to mind, though, chortling heartily at the sight of likkered-up wimmen being bitchy, pulling hair, and throwing up on one another's shoes. Cute, huh?)
The men fare no better in Lone Star. Tim Kough, apparently navigating on his own, turns in a sensitive and honest performance as Roy, but Stephen J. Rose (who looks like a redneck Elmer Fudd) as Cletis and Ian Barford as Ray both play their roles as if they already think of Roy as a helpless has-been, destroying most of the dramatic tension. And even though the script makes reference again and again to the sizzling east Texas heat, we never see any actor so much as wipe perspiration from his brow or muss his fresh, neatly pressed attire.
Whether this slipshod attention to detail is due to simple inexperience on the part of director Dean J. Leitzen or to his reluctance to reign in the senior company members in the cast, the result is a production that falls disappointingly short of Wild Life Theatre's usual high standards.
Act Now Productions at the Rudely Elegant Theater and Gallery
Much more fulfilling is Act Now Productions' rendering of Lone Star--set this time in 1974 (McLure never specified a year in his script), after the end of the war and after Watergate, which gives a slightly different twist to some of the characters' lines. Under the enthusiastic direction of Pepper Stebbins, Jeffrey Christian as Ray delivers a performance almost painful in its poignance and earnest ingenuousness and Kenny Williams brings subtlety and sympathy to the thankless role of Cletis. Only Marshall Crawford plays attitude instead of character in his portrayal of Roy, relying too much on his big voice and on the resounding crash of boots, beer bottles, and two-by-fours on the wooden stage floor that we're struggling to pretend is a bar alley in Maynard, Texas.
Still, two out of three isn't bad--especially when you figure in the 30-minute preshow concert of original and period country and western, performed by one "J.R. Gatts" (actually Williams in Roy Orbison shades), that's at least as good as anything you'll hear on WUSN these days.