Written by James McLure
Directed by Joe John Battista
Featuring musical guests The Chalks
With the aid of a few graffitied brick walls, a cooler full of beer, a fiddle and a few guitars, plus a generous helping of yeehaw spirit, the gang at the 13th Street Rep manage the challenging task of turning a West Village black box theater into a roadhouse saloon in rural Texas.
To start things off, proprietor T-Bone (Tony Del Bono) and his slow-on-the-uptake right hand man Pervis (John Constantine) ineptly attempt lay down Angel’s Bar’s ground rules. A kind of Western edition of Abbott and Costello, the boys can’t seem to get on the same page but somehow manage to take care of business anyway. The writers of this opening skit could stand to punch up the material, but the comedic rapport between Del Bono and Constantine helps set the mood for the show’s first act: a romping, stomping selection of favorites from the illustrious Chalk Sisters.
Judeen (Mary Brienza), Judelle (Kathryn Markey) and Belva (Leenya Rideout), started out as a Christian girl group. But along the rocky back roads of the music business they’ve morphed into a rowdy country bar band whose songs chronicle the colorful misadventures of a trio of strong-willed, outspoken, freewheeling women. Sporting titles like Mud Flap Mama and Hog Wild & Hog Tied, their ditties are affectionate pastiches of classic Nashville fare. In between the numbers, the gals engage in a bit of sibling rivalry, ribald humor and audience participation games. Rather than take a SNL-like approach to sneering at redneck culture, the sisters encourage the audience to laugh with them as they find Texas-style solutions to the dilemmas life throws at them. The performers (all of whom have impressive Broadway and off-Broadway resumés) craft their lyrics and chord sequences in the tradition of Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams and other giants of the genre. They have the musical chops to back up their satirical and the theatrical skills to sell their special brand of comedy.
The second half of the show, scripted by the late James McClure, takes place in the porch behind Angel’s Bar. Here, irascible Vietnam veteran Roy (Matt deRogatis), grows increasingly drunk and at odds with the world. His guileless younger brother Ray (Chris Loupos) attempts to keep order, but there’s no telling what Roy might do– especially when he finds out that Cletis (Michael Villastrigo), bullied by Roy since childhood, has exacted a crazy revenge. There are more bombshells coming as Ray divulges a guilty secret that has been weighing heavily on his shoulders. Neither Maynard, Texas nor Roy’s psyche will ever be the same as before the war. But, in true frontier fashion, the men find a way of moving on. Superbly acted and confidently directed by Joe John Battista, the play hits most of its tragicomic notes with precision. There are a few lines that are shouted at high volume when a more deadpan approach might serve the humor better, but overall the work is solid. The only real problem with the show is that, despite McClure’s skill at dialogue and structure, the material itself seems dated. The script was written in 1978, the golden age of the Guy Play, when American theater was energized by raw dramas of salesmen, cowboys and gangsters facing the inevitable obsolescence of their social archetypes. Today’s audiences have imbibed so much Shepard, Mamet and Tarantino that we can barely shake our poetic-machismo hangovers. If the hair of the dog is what you seek, LONE STAR might be just your poison. For most of us, though, the high octane – and all female- antics of the Chalks feel more relevant.
LONE STAR continues through June 16, 2019 at 13th Street Rep, 50 West 13th Street, New York, New York. Tickets and showtimes: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4056750