Directed by – Judy Bauman Blalock
Scenic Design – Erin Maher
Costumes – Patsy Daussat
Props – Judy Bauman Blalock, Erin Maher, Dan Duncan, Abel Casillas
Lighting Design – Scott Davis
Sound Design – Danica Bergeron
Stage Manager – Erin Maher
Jacie Hood Wenzel – Elizabeth Caulder
Angela Butson – Hattie Dealing
Jill Ethridge – Amy Lee Fullernoy
Andrew Manning – Roy Caulder
Tyler Shults – Ray Caulder
Nathan Dibben – Cletis T. Fullernoy
Photography Credit: Tara Robbins
Reviewed Performance 6/7/2015
Reviewed by Carol M. Rice, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Lone Star was first presented together with Laundry and Bourbon under the overall title of 1959 Pink Thunderbird in 1980 at the McCarter Theatre, a professional theatre on the Princeton University campus. Lone Star had been produced the year before off-Broadway, too, this time paired with Pvt. Wars. While Lone Star is generally still produced with one or the other, the more popular pairing is with Laundry and Bourbon, although all three plays stand up on their own and, in fact, are often produced without companion pieces.
The set and lighting for this pair of one-act plays were exquisite. Erin Maher’s rickety back porch in Laundry and Bourbon transformed beautifully into the alley behind Angel’s Bar for Lone Star, and Scott Davis’ lighting matched them both extremely well. The late afternoon sun blazed down through the trees at the Caulder house via the excellent use of gobos and color. It’s also often rough to depict night time without seeming either too dark and shadowy or too bright, but the lighting let us know it was extremely late and still gave us plenty of light to see the action.
Assisting in setting the scenes was Danica Bergeron’s realistic sound design. Old-school telephones ringing, cars driving up, the jukebox playing inside the bar and the accompanying drunken noise – it was all there. Very nice job.
When Lone Star first appeared off-Broadway in 1979, the Vietnam War was still fresh in people’s minds. Now these plays are considered period pieces. However, the time period was not included in the program, and if the characters hadn’t been talking about Vietnam, I would not have known when these plays took place based on Patsy Daussat’s costumes. Hattie’s shoes looked like they belonged to the late 1970s, as did Cletis’ suit, but everything else could have come straight out of everyone’s closets. In fact, Ray’s saggy jeans were distinctly from the wrong period.
As produced by Runway Theatre, Laundry and Bourbon was the first half of the evening’s bill, with Lone Star as Act II. The order is a bit puzzling if you listen to the events of the plays being described, for Ray comments on the fact that Ray has just dropped off Elizabeth earlier in the night in the second half, while Elizabeth laments that he hasn’t been home for two days in the first half.
Judy Baumon Blalock directed Laundry and Bourbon and Lone Star, and her actors were hit and miss. By far, the strongest performance came from Jacie Hood Wenzel as the possibly deserted wife, Elizabeth. Her subtle body language and facial expressions let us know she was miles away at times, yet she could still snap back into the action and joke with her friends for a few moments before drifting away again. Elizabeth is a deceptively difficult role to do well, and Ms. Wenzel did a superb job. According to her bio, she is relatively new to DFW, and I look forward to seeing her on more of our stages.
Also bringing in a strong performance was Jill Ethridge as the busy-body Baptist/country club queen, Amy Lee, who was obviously “better than everyone else” from her first entrance. Other than letting the bourbon allow her to relax and get comfortable much too quickly, her performance was right on point.
Angela Butson rounds out the cast of Laundry and Bourbon as Hattie Dealing, who really should be the comedy relief of the piece. Unfortunately Ms. Butson was rather monotone and often cast her eyes to the ground. Her delivery and understanding of her lines was not as polished as her cast mates and she lost lots of potential laughs because of this.
Both plays essentially center on the character of Roy Caulder, despite the fact that he only appears in Lone Star. Andrew Manning had just the right look for the late 1970s ladies’ man, and his “pornstache” was perfect for the time period. His portrayal of Roy had all the swagger and confidence of a man who knows he’s attractive, but he also let the bravado turn into confusion when needed. The short speech when he reflects on his love for his Elizabeth was lovely, and his emotional moment near tears upon finding out the news about his car was subtle yet charged.
Nathan Dibben played Cletis T. Fullernoy as the caricature he’s written. It’s not an easy role to add layers to and Mr. Dibben managed to at least avoid getting too stereotypical in his portrayal of the town whipping boy still trying to grow up.
As Ray Caulder, Tyler Shults suffered from some of the same pitfalls as Ms. Butson. He lacked the energy for such a prevalent character & he tended to speak in a monotone. Across from the dynamic personalities portrayed by Mr. Manning and even Mr. Dibben, Mr. Shults’ performance just fell flat.
That was also the problem with the production overall. Pacing seemed very slow throughout both shows. Perhaps I’m misremembering past productions and my own readings of the plays, but I don’t remember either coming in at an hour or more and both did, making for a much longer performance than I had anticipated.
In addition, Ms. Blalock’s blocking often wandered. The characters frequently just moved to be moving, especially in Laundry and Bourbon, and considering both shows involve characters throwing up offstage, one might think future blocking would avoid those areas, but in both Laundry and Bourbon and Lone Star, characters walked right through areas that should have been avoided.
That said, I thought that Laundry and Bourbon and Lone Star generally made for an enjoyable production, and if you’ve never seen these staples of Texas theatre, I recommend you catch them at Runway Theatre. Despite the fact that playwright James McClure grew up in Louisiana, his most famous works are set in our beloved Texas, but he did attend SMU for his undergraduate work in theatre before heading to New York.
A word of warning, however: there is some VERY strong language in Lone Star, and at the performance I attended, a couple got up and left during a scene about Vietnam and another lady got up and left during a scene about women’s body parts. I’ll be honest: knowing the plays, I was surprised that Runway chose them. While I applaud them for not cutting any of the language (as theatres often do yet aren’t supposed to), I do question whether they truly took their audience into account when putting these plays into their season.
LONE STAR and LAUNDRY AND BOURBON
Runway Theatre, 215 N. Dooley Ave., Grapevine, TX 76051
Runs through June 14.
Actual days: Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm and Sunday at 3:00pm. Tickets are $12-15.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.runwaytheatre.com or call the box office at (817) 488-4842.