Second Thought Theatre
Director - Mathew Gray
Co-Artistic Directors - Steven Walters & Chris LaBove
Producer - Steven Walters
Assistant Director - Kelsey Head
Stage Manager - Brittany Noll
Production Manager - Drew Wall
Set/Costume Design - Mathew Gray
Lighting Design - Aaron Johansen
Props Design - Drew Wall
Gilligan - Clay Yocum*
Bill - Christopher Labove
April - JennyLedel
Fred - Mike Schraeder
Merle - Greg Schroeder
Reviewed Performance 2/9/2012
Reviewed by Danny Macchietto, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Pluck the Day. It means seize the day. I will admit that the title of Second Thought Theatre's original production by Steven Walters, also marking their return to the Dallas theatre arena, didn't prepare me for the harsh, yet charming frankness of its characters. It is clear thirty minutes in to it that the term "pluck" shares a double meaning with another choice word that rhymes with pluck, but as the producers of the recent Broadway bomb, The Motherf**ker With the Hat, can tell you, play's with "f**k" in the title don't sell tickets so easily.
The play opens on two mismatched pals Duck and Bill sitting on a porch on a Sunday afternoon in a desolate part of West Texas drinking Milwaukee's Best. The opening scene is ambitious in its intricate detail of two men methodically working through a crossword puzzle, but it strikes exactly the right tone for a play that is more about the characters and relationships than the story's natural progression.
Duck, played by Clay Yocum, has an uncanny ability to goad controversy in the most unlikely of conversations and Bill, is an easy target, because he is so tightly wound up. Bill, played by Christopher LaBove, is an excellent straight man to Duck's unpredictable tongue. He is reserved and restrained and exemplifies the meaning of support to another actor.
The first third of this one hour and twenty minute comedy (no intermission) covers topics as varied as McClennan Community College, McDonald's, arm wrestling, overweight issues, and emu farming. The conversation flows freely and naturally and is hilarious to boot. This is owed to Mathew Gray's confident direction of Walters' zippy script, Yocum's dexterous skill of his rapid fire, verbal ease and the use of good old-fashioned, authentic cursing.
There is a lot of colorful language in this play, and when it is done right, such words can elevate to a work of art that is as tricky a feat as a Shakespearean soliloquy. This kind of thoughtfulness to a character's use of the English language is refreshing.
Time passes in Duck and Bill's mundane, yet very entertaining conversation as April, the girlfriend of Bill's roommate Fred, stumbles upon the scene. It is here that the audience is given the first of many nuggets of what is truly going on underneath the characters' surface. April is moving to San Antonio and urgently needs to speak to Fred. Fred is missing in action, out on another one of his peyote binges. When he returns home to his porch he has some news of his own to share.
Fred's entrance is a high point of the show. He is played by Mike Schraeder with welcome exuberance and high energy as his character is attempting to come down from a peyote high. We know little that has happened to him in his absence, but to have explored it more fully would be a whole new play altogether. If Walters chose to see to do a spin-off called Pluck the Peyote, then that is a trip that I want to witness. What we do know about Fred's peyote experience is that he has a penchant for ripping off Jack Nicholson's famous lines from Batman and the only thing that will sober him up is watermelon Jell-O. A quick Google search reveals that such a thing does exist, but very difficult to find. There are more surprises revealed from Fred's entrance onward, but I will not reveal them here.
Walters is very deliberate in constructing a play where not one single character experiences a polarizing change (one change does, indeed, occur for a character yet happens before the curtain even opens). I applaud him for this because it proves that it needn't stop the natural dramatic action.
Pluck the Day's strength is not found in its surprises, but in keeping consistent with the character's reactions; however, on one occasion, Walters is unfair in toying with the audience' expectations.
We learn with less than half the running time remaining that Duck is married with two children. As we discover this, it is flummoxing as we have already understandably, but apparently wrongfully assumed that Duck, Bill, and Fred were naturally roommates. It is an expositional detail that would have been more beneficial to know upfront, as it risks diminishing the lovely exchange between Duck and Fred, about the difference between liking and loving your wife. Mr. Walters you are the playwright and may so choose to trick and deceive your audience. A deception is always welcome, but please trick us fairly and don't cheat.
As April, Jenny Ledel is solid in her role; in fact, she's perfectly cast, but if I appear muted in my praise, it is simply because the character's presence on stage is a distraction, because it is not necessarily essential to the male character's plights. Case in point, there is a scene involving a tattoo that does much to deliberately negate the perception of what one character thinks they've seen as foul play. Later on we get a repeat of the same point being made with April's knowledge that there is a scientific reason that this character couldn't have seen what he thought he saw.
April's character must "exist" for essential affected reasons that I can't reveal here, but the male characters may have been better served if the object of Fred's desire was left unseen.
Mathew Gray coaxes great unity from his cast overall. The best thing I can say about his directing is that I never felt like the actor's were being directed at all. Gray keeps the compositions natural and controls the pacing at a nice, fluid level. Equally impressive is the fulfillment of his other roles as costumer and set designer. The set is appropriately sparse in the spacing it provides, but uniquely detailed. The cooler full of beer and the peyote plant sort of become unofficial shrines. Gray goes so far as to immerse the stage in wood chippings. A note to those that have allergies: don't sit in the front row if you are allergic to cedar.
Greg Schroeder as "Cousin" Merle is not a set piece, but he is humorously used as figurative set dressing. Merle lounges visibly in the background strumming his guitar at times with Shroeder's own original songs and adding to the intended local color of this play's West Texas landscape.
Steven Walters' narrative voice is one that I hear loud and clear. With Pluck the Day he announces himself as writer that has a keen ear for dialogue and the type of rich understanding of Texas that probably hasn't been heard since James McClure's Lone Star.
PLUCK THE DAY
Second Thought Theatre
Bryant Hall on the Kalita Humphreys Campus
3636 Turtle Creek Blvd, Dallas, TX 75129
Runs through February 26th
Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm,
Sundays at 2:00 pm
Special Show-Industry Night Pay What You Can?Sat. Feb.13 at 7:30pm
Online Tickets are $22.50 for Adults, $15 for Students and Seniors. $25 at the
For tickets call 866-811-4111 or purchase online at www.secondthoughttheatre.com