MORE FUN THAN BOWLING, Ranch Theater Company, at National Pastime Theater. This is the second production I've seen of Steven Dietz's play about a decent small-town bowling-alley proprietor whose wives have an unfortunate habit of dying in freak accidents. But even in this earnest, well-intentioned staging by an enthusiastic young company, I have difficulty finding the work's appeal.
The story revolves around Jake Tomlinson, his ill-fated wives and cheerful if lonely teenage daughter, and the mysterious gunman who appears to be stalking him. Dietz strives for a quirky, infectious folksiness in depicting the denizens of Turtle Rapids, where wedding celebrations are highlighted by moonlight bowling competitions and Conway Twitty plays in every jukebox. But though the playwright displays a knack for inventive bowling lingo, much of the aw-shucks cutesiness comes off as strained, and the characters' philosophizing, which blends happy-go-lucky fatalism with seize-the-day gusto, is labored, often delivered directly to the audience in reflective monologues. These would probably work better on their own in auditions, but here they halt an already slow-moving work all too reminiscent of the town of Turtle Rapids, where precious little happens.
The Ranch Theater Company's production--directed, produced, and designed by Craig Himes--accurately mimics the leisurely, contemplative tone of Dietz's play: this show has all the drama of a friendly bowling match where no one's bothering to keep score.