NY Theater Review by JK Clarke
Texans love to say of their state that “everything is bigger.” Contemporary Theatre of Dallas’s production of James McLure’s companion one act plays, Lone Star and Laundry and Bourbon (now playing—for no apparent reason—at The Clurman Theatre) hammers that point home, by adding an audience’s “suspension of disbelief” into that equation. These two pieces, frequently workshopped in acting schools, are yet another chapter in the vast (and mystifying) array of Sam Shepard-inspired plays about angry and disillusioned working class rural folk. They are the stories of three women and three men in their mid- to late- twenties who are still nostalgic for their “glorious” high school days and frightened by their uncertain futures. But stop right there, because that’s where this production goes wrong.
The theater world is stocked with plays featuring characters of all ages and types. And, as a corollary, there are actors of all ages and types available for all of these roles. So, when there’s a play about people in their twenties, it’s easy (and appropriate) to hire actors who are in that age range. The only exception would be when indulging in some sort of experimental theater. That’s not the case here, and CTD has chosen to cast several actors who are, at least, a generation older than their characters. The result is a drastic shift in context, which throws the storylines into, well, chaos. For example, when Elizabeth (Marianne Galloway) in Laundry and Bourbon announces she’s pregnant, we are delivered a distinctly different message from a character who appears to be approaching forty years of age: will the baby even be healthy? will she keep it? did she, barren until now, use in vitro fertilization? The meaning of the moment changes entirely. Since she is supposed to be in her twenties, it should be more an occasion of excitement than apprehension. In the text, it’s abundantly clear the writer’s intent, by dint of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, is to force her and Roy to grow up and move to the next stage of development and adulthood (the plays are ultimately about transition), but the casting irrevocably clouds that understanding.
What’s more, the three women are meant to be high school classmates, but Elizabeth’s friend Hattie (Sue Loncar) looks to be at least 10 to 15 years older than she, causing one to puzzle over the actual nature of the relationship. Meanwhile, in Lone Star, Cletus (Ken Orman), who appears to be at least 50 years old, seems strangely infantilized when he offers Ray an “unheard of” 15% discount in the family store, enthusing “I don’t care what Daddy says!” Maybe these age anomalies wouldn’t be a problem with the aid of exceptionally brilliant performances and prosthetics, but that wasn’t the case either. At times, Laundry and Bourbon felt like a table read.
Other components of the performance grated, as well. The womens’ costumes (Sue Loncar) were anachronistic, with distinctive dress patterns that wouldn’t appear until at least 10 years after the play takes place.
Some positive elements shouldn’t be overlooked: Rodney Dobbs’ set was evocative and nicely modular, easily shifting the scenery from one play’s set to another with simple moves and dramatic change. And, in Lone Star, as Roy’s slower brother Ray, Joey Oglesby was a lovable, well-meaning simpleton, who nearly carried the whole play.
This transplanted production has the reek of “vanity project” all over it. It’s surely exciting to tell your friends and family back home that you’ve brought your play to New York City (yet keep in mind, interested observers back home, that The Clurman qualifies as neither “Broadway” nor “Off-Broadway,” it’s just a rented theater in plain ol’ New York), but in reading CTD’s rambling, self-congratulatory description in the program, one would get the impression that they’re the best (and award winning!) community theater Dallas has to offer. One certainly hopes not.
*Photos: Julie Ann Arbiter
Laundry and Bourbon & Lone Star. Directed by Cynthia Hestand. Through July 26 at The Clurman Theatre (Theater Row, 410 West 42nd Street at 9th Avenue). www.theatrerow.org