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by Del Shores

Runway Theatre

Dan Duncan as Sid Cranford
Kenny Green as Bo Bob Jasper
Jamal Perkins as Clarence Hopkins
Miracle Lewis as Sara Lee Turnover
Judy Bauman Blalock as Ovella Parsons-Wilks
Jason Haney as Teddy Joe Wilks
Rose Anne Holman as Maybelline Cartwright

Directed by Evelyn Davis
Assistant Director/Stage Manager Laurie Grissom
Assistant Stage Manager Erin Montgomery
Sound Design by Matthew Crawley
Lighting Design by Ed Snyder
Costume Design by Patsy Daussat
Prop Design by Kathy Snyder
Set Design by Judy Bauman Blalock

Reviewed Performance: 8/4/2018

Reviewed by Stacey Upton, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Rounding out their 35th season, the Runway Theatre has chosen Del Shores’ first published play to perform. “Cheatin’” was written in 1984 and predates his hilarious “Sordid Lives” and “Daddy’s Dyin’ (Who’s Got The Will?).” It’s interesting to see where Del Shores is going to head in his comedy future, but as with any first novel or attempt, there clunkers in here. The play’s humor is severely dated and too bitter in tone to be truly funny throughout most of the proceedings. “Cheatin’” is what director Evelyn Davis refers to as a “redneck comedy.” It has funnily named characters like Sara Lee Turnover and Maybelline and the obligatory two-name folks like Bo Bob who inhabit the small down of Lowake, Texas. These characters have known each other since high school, and as the title indicates, there’s been a lot of cheatin’ going on. The humor derives from seeing these oddball people sorting out their marital and personal problems. The seventh character in the show is the bartender, backup singer, and sometimes psychic Sid Crawford. Sid serves as the Master of Ceremonies in this play, breaking the fourth wall to directly interact with the audience and tell this “mess of a story” out of Lowake, Texas. It is Sid who at the end serves up three tidy happy endings for his story. After all, this is a comedy.

The Runway Theatre is a great space to see a show. Tucked back into a shopping complex with plenty of parking, you know you are in experienced hands the moment you walk into the lobby area. You can take the food and drinks they sell into the theatre itself, which lends a party atmosphere to the proceedings. The house was nearly full. It’s always wonderful to see a community theatre doing a great job bringing in a diverse audience eager to see a play.

That diversity was also present on the stage, with stage veterans balancing out actors with only a few plays under their belt. As an ensemble, the actors work hard at being present for each other, and their many entrances and exits (important in a farce) were well timed. They all did their best to elevate the mostly one-note characters to something bigger. Dan Duncan, who plays Sid the bartender, is the first person to step on the stage. He plays his part with a twinkle in his eye and had rapport with the audience. Dan is clearly having a ball, and his portrayal of his “psychic visions” are among some of the funniest moments in the play. He also plays a terrible mandolin (on purpose) and doesn’t mind that his gleeful warblings are horrendously off-pitch – they are meant to be. Dan proved his ability to make us like him the moment he appeared, and he used that likeability to keep us connected to the show.

Dim-witted mailman Bo Bob Jasper also had some fine moments in this play as portrayed by veteran Kenny Green. Green got most of the laughs. He is adept at the physical comedy required in farce. Bo Bob doesn’t need much to make him happy – just his regular seat at the bar, and a good root beer. Kenny Green also gives this character heart and tenderness. When he gets teased mercilessly for being “stupid” and is treated badly by characters who are supposed to be his friends, it is genuinely off-putting. This is one of the areas were the play shows its age. To our modern ears, having a character mocked as a “dum-dum” repeatedly isn’t funny at all, and it is in these moments where the play loses its fun.

His best friend, mechanic and adulterer Clarence Hopkins is played by stage newcomer Jamal Perkins. He has a big physical presence on the stage. Jamal is game to do what this script requires as a bedroom romp and has some fun channeling Al Green in a dream sequence.

Another stage veteran and founding member of Runway Theatre, Rose Ann Holman, plays lonely-heart waitress Maybelline Cartwright with energy. Her mobile face serves her well as she portrays Maybelline as a nice person moving through life in despair of ever finding happiness because she thinks (and is told by multiple other characters) that she is not pretty enough to get a man, and because she is fat. This is another arena where the play fails with the current day audience. While this may have been funny back in the 1980’s, it’s worn out its welcome in 2018. The actors find it hard to regain momentum after the fat jokes and the ‘stupid’ jokes thud to the ground.

The small town’s only beautician, Sara Lee Turnover is portrayed by Miracle Lewis. Miracle plays her as sweet and utterly innocent of her long-time beau Clarence’s cheating ways. When she does find out, her character tries to keep to the high road, even when tempted to do some cheating herself, but ultimately takes her revenge on her rival in a way only a hairstylist can. Miracle had some nice moments humanizing this flat character when alone on stage but resorted too often to repetitive gestures and vocal inflections in her scene work.

The final pairing in this play is Ovella Parsons Wilks, played by Judy Bauman Blalock and her husband Teddy Joe Wilks played by Jason Haney. They are the classic cheerleader and high school football quarterback gone sour pairing. Ovella has been cheating every Monday at the local no-tell motel with Clarence for years. Teddy Joe finally finds out and sets the play to rolling along. Blalock has the unhappy task of trying to get us to care about her character, who is meanspirited and nasty. It just never comes together for the actress, as the character really doesn’t seem to have any redeeming characteristics. While full-on bitches and serial cheaters may have worked in the 80’s, they don’t today. As her maligned husband, Haney bounces onto the stage with good energy decked out in classic tennis gear from the 1980’s. His portrayal of Teddy Joe has a sweetness to it, and he has the solid physicality of an old football hero. Even after his shallow attempt at revenge, we find ourselves hoping he’ll leave Ovella for good.

Judy Bauman Blalock pulled double-duty for this show as a leading actress and as the set designer. Her set is fabulous, utilizing the intimate theatre’s space perfectly with three separate playing areas denoting the bar, beauty shop and motel. She’s added lots of entrances, so the characters can fly in and out as this farce requires. Costume design by Patsy Daussat is full-on 1980’s garb. It was fun seeing all that old “fashion” again. Lighting design by Ed Snyder was complex, and my hat is off to the sound and light crew for this show, Christina Puryear and Laird Thompson, and stage manager Laurie Grissom and her assistant stage manager Erin Montgomery. Prop design by Kathy Snyder was also great, perfectly stuck in the 1980’s – finding all the props for this show must have kept her busy. Sound design by Matthew Crawley was all eighties all the time, and he found some songs that you haven’t heard in a long while.

Director Evelyn Davis is to be commended for keeping her actors on their toes and staging “Cheatin’” to be as rapid-fire as possible. Her use of all the doors in the theatre and having the characters start a scene just moments before the last one was ending was well done. Her casting was interesting, and just right for a community theatre outing. Sadly, the play itself is too dated and mean-spirited to be truly entertaining, despite the best efforts of all involved in this show.

Presented by Runway Theatre, 215 N. Dooley Street, Grapevine TX 76051
August 3rd-19th, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm.
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