By Myra Chanin
I spent the winter and most of the spring in Florida with my husband. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Culture in Florida? I’ve been to the most upscale theater companies in Palm Beach, Boca Raton and Miami, and to put it kindly, their programs are mostly non-exhilarating.
If you think that I’m saying that Florida culture is arghhh! Be warned that the medical care down there is triple arghh! Both give me an excuse, once every six weeks, to unearth a symptom troubling enough to excuse me for grabbing miles from our Frequent Flier accounts to take the iron bird up to the Big Apple, consult a New York medico and treat myself to whatever artistic talent is making the rounds.
Because I was so delighted to be up north, I volunteered to review an off-off Broadway production I wasn’t anxious to see, in a venue I wasn’t anxious to visit. Surprise! I found myself totally wide awake and loving the entire two-and-a-half hour performance. First came a toe-tapping hour of country songs followed by a surprisingly poignant, amazingly performed and beautifully directed three-character play in a neat, clean, petite off-off Broadway theater manned by a welcoming staff selling wine, beer and water ticket holders can take with them to their seats. Wow. The production was called Lone Star, and was the kind of unexpected New York pleasure found by anyone willing to see something that the NY Times didn’t notice or review.
It was playing at The 13th Street Repertory Theatre, a former bastion of controversial and daring works in the ‘60’s, which fell upon disrepair but now seems to have found a savior: Mighty Joe John Battista, an American Academy of Dramatic Arts grad whose mentors include William Hickey and Uta Hagen. The clean 65-cushioned seat, black box theater with a raised stage on an accessible ground floor level of an 1840 Greenwich Village Brownstone was pleasing on many levels.
After a few minutes of pretending to read the rules of behavior for the evening, T-Bone (Tony Del Bono) and Pervis (John Constantine) convinced the offstage reluctant bartender to sing. She turned out to be Leenya Rideout, a musician/singer/songwriter who blends folk, rock and country with a Celtic edge as well as a playwright and Broadway actor who’d been cast in Cabaret, Company, Cyrano and War Horse. Her history of country heartbreak ran the gamut from depression to revenge including songs by Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette and Johnny and June Carter Cash. I was sorry to see it end.
Lone Star is billed as a comedy, but it’s a pitiful story about three men stuck in Midland, Texas with no futures and very little pasts. James McLure’s play is beautifully directed by Joe Battista and performed so convincingly that I totally believed that older brother Roy (Matt de Rogatis) was a Vietnam Veteran whose life consisted of sitting behind a roadhouse drinking beer non-stop and that his younger brother Ray (Chris Loupos) was a mechanic devoted to concealing a secret from Roy that Ray wanted to reveal. The third member of the Lone Star trio, Cletis (Michael Villastrigo), was a small-town stumblebum, who longed to be just like his idol, Roy. Cletis was employed, but only because his father owned the town appliance store. They all fall into the group that Hillary Clinton deplorably called deplorables, but de Rogatis and Loupos turn the brothers into lost men who stirred my elite snob heart.
Roy fought in Vietnam. He saw his buddies get their heads blown off. There are two things he cherishes – his supposedly faithful wife Elizabeth and his 1959 Pink Convertible which got him every bit of worthwhile tail in town. When he learns that both ain’t necessarily so, he is destroyed but not for long. He still has something that makes him proud. He lives in Midland, Texas, rather than anyplace in Oklahoma, which he considers the hellhole of the world.
Keep an eye out for anything Joe John Battista’s doing at the 13th Street Repertory Theater. If Lone Star is a sample of his efforts, his work is very worthy of attention and support.
Photos: Joe Battista
Lone Star – 13th Street Repertory Theater, 50 West 13 Street, NYC run time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission) Performances thru June 16th