Director – Marty Van Kleeck
Lighting Design – Amanda West
Sound Design/AV Design – Rick Frohlich
Set Design – Bruce R. Coleman
Costume Coordination – Robin Armstrong
Stage Manager – Kevin Scott Keating
Production Assistant – Monika Zimmermann
Technical Director – John Ruegsegger
Scenic Painter – David Walsh
Production Crew – Michael Spencer, Jennifer Woodward, Monika Zimmermann
Petite – Jenna Anderson
Sycamore – John S. Davies
Maudie – Patricia E. Hill
Leroy – Greg Hullett
Magritte – Gene Raye Price
Reviewed Performance 1/25/2016
Reviewed by Joel Gerard, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Theatre Three has mounted a full production of this new play Oil for their main arena stage, but there are still some kinks that need to be worked out. Unfortunately there is more wrong with this show than there is right.
If I had a dollar for every time a character said “oil” or “Texas”, I might be as wealthy as the fictional Holes family. Magritte and Sycamore Holes live in Houston, Texas. All the action takes place at the Holes mansion in 1987. They are the owners of an oil company and the land they drill on. Unfortunately they have fallen on hard times. The oil business isn’t what it used to be and they are losing their fortune. In the midst of their financial difficulties, they are planning an annual barbecue with foreign dignitaries, princesses, and the Vice President of the United States. This lavish barbecue is meant to show everyone how successful they are, but things don’t go according to plan. The problems start with the script and trickle down from there. There are too many issues thrown into the play such as alcoholism, cancer, homosexuality, infidelity, race, and politics. It would have seemed less scattershot if it has been paired down to a few issues that could have been explored deeply and with greater purpose. These characters didn’t seem real enough. They were stereotypes and caricatures. I felt like I was watching a melodramatic Lifetime movie instead of an insightful play with something to say.
Gene Raye Price plays Magritte, the matriarch of the family and the most complex character in the show. Magritte dreams of oil. Literally. She has vivid dreams of oil and how she can accomplish finding more oil to keep the family afloat. Her focus is on creating a new business venture to explore their family land for more oil deposits. The annual family barbecue is her way of showing friends, politicians, and the public that her family is still wealthy and relevant in this time of change. To cope with the stress of the annual barbecue, the loss of their fortune, and her cancer, Magritte has become an alcoholic and unbearable person. Ms. Price has the unenviable task of playing drunk for 90% of the show. Trying to “act drunk” is difficult for any actor. Most of the time it’s usually just for one scene in a show. The script pretty much stacks the odds against her when she has to play different levels of drunk for the entire length of the show. Ms. Price’s portrayal was rather one-note. There was a lot of yelling which was mostly just screeching and uncomfortable.
Magritte’s husband is Sycamore, played by John S. Davies. His oil company has been deteriorating and the Holes Oil name doesn’t mean what it used to. He’s been blamed for an oil spill in Gulf of Mexico. Oil production is increasingly being sought out in the Middle East instead of at home in Texas. His wife’s mental and physical health is deteriorating, and he’s well aware that she’s not quite the same woman he married years ago. Sycamore doesn’t want things to change, but the world around him is changing quickly. Mr. Davies does a good job of showing Sycamore’s stress and exhaustion. He managed probably the most lived-in and natural performance from the cast.
Magritte and Sycamore’s daughter is named Petite. She still lives on the family property on a piece of land she’s developed into housing for people who form sort of a commune. They are described as a bunch of free-loading hippies. But apparently they are smart hippies because Petite has been working with them on inventing new solar power discs that would provide clean environmentally friendly energy. Petite hates oil and is trying to convince her father to invest in the solar discs instead of relying on oil. Jenna Anderson tries to invest Petite with fiery independence, but she come across more like a spoiled brat. It doesn’t help that her character’s motivations aren’t always clear. In an instance where her mother’s plan to find oil pans out, she seems more than happy to have money and use the family’s resources even though she had been resentful of the family business the entire time.
Leroy is the Holes' nephew who grew up with the family after his parents were killed when he was little. Leroy moved out of Texas when he became an adult to pursue his own life and goals. He’s come back after many years to be with the family for the annual barbecue party and also because Magritte wants him to work with her on her new business venture to find oil. Leroy encourages Magritte’s wacky behavior because he wants the fortune and control of the company. He’s the most self-serving character in the show. The script tries to add depth to Leroy’s character but fails. It’s mentioned several times that Leroy is gay. Greg Hullett, who plays Leroy, didn’t seem to know what to do with this information. Once again, the script threw in that the character is gay, but doesn’t provide anything interesting to say about it. We don’t learn anything about past boyfriends, his struggle to come out, or what his life outside of Texas is like. I can’t blame Mr. Hullett for an incomplete character when the script is really at fault. Patricia E. Hill plays the family maid/personal assistant Maudie. Maudie has been employed by the family for years and is dedicated to them. She has a no-nonsense attitude and tries to keep the outrageous antics of the family in line. She’s not just the maid; she’s also intelligent and business savvy. Maudie has the greatest arc for the show and the most fulfilling ending. Ms. Hill seems like she’s having a blast. With just a look you could tell what she was thinking. Maudie has the funniest lines in the show and Ms. Hill delivers them with relish and gusto. Kudos to her for elevating every scene she’s in.
Costumes by Robin Armstrong were a little tacky. Magritte’s costumes were mostly befitting her personality. Southern women like their big hair and jewels, and Magritte has a bright red wig she puts on to greet guests. Petite always looked like a hippie in long flowing skirts with crocheted shawls. The men fared the worst of the looks. Sycamore and Leroy wore silk suits in golds and blues with bolo ties and western shirts. I know there were some unfortunate fashion choices in the ‘80s, but I find it hard to believe that in an urban city like Houston in 1987 these guys dressed like this. It happens a lot when I visit somewhere else in the country (especially up north) and I say I’m from Dallas, people look at me funny. They think everyone in Dallas wears cowboy hats and boots. That’s the kind of stereotype that these costumes are perpetuating.
I enjoyed the set design by Bruce R. Coleman. Theatre in the round can be tough to design for but Mr. Coleman made good use of the space. The main set piece was the master bedroom for Magritte and Sycamore. Satin sheets on the bed with ornate furniture and cowhide rugs adorned their well-appointed bedroom. There was also a section of the master bathroom which was painted a Pepto-Bismol pink which seemed like Magritte’s taste. A long table which was used for the family barbecue was flanked by large decorative columns befitting a mansion.
There is also a little bit of video used strategically during the show. Rick Frolich designed some projections that appear on screens above the stage. When Magritte sleeps, images of oil derricks and waves of liquid invoke her dreams. There is also a basketball game that Sycamore watches. It’s all seamless and added another facet to the setting. I was ultimately disappointed in this production. This particular theatrical work was a misstep and a half-baked effort. Theatre Three normally produces good shows. I’ll be dreaming of that show until then.
Theatre Three. 2800 Routh St, Suite 168, Dallas, TX 75201
Through February 14th, 2016
Tix: For dates, times, and info go to www.theatre3dallas.com or call the box office at (214) 871-3300.