LONE STAR

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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

TIME STANDS STILL

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Written by Donald Marguiles
Directed by Jerry Heymann

TIME STANDS STILL made its New York debut in January of 2010. Though it sported a cast of A listers, the material wasn’t well served by the production. Something of the nuances of Donald Marguiles’s multilayered script were overwhelmed by the size of the show’s Broadway venue. The script plays better in an intimate venue, and audiences who were underwhelmed by the original production will discover new relevance, rawness and humor the New Light Theater’s heartfelt revival.

After suffering a near-fatal injury, photojournalist Sarah (Nancy Nagrant), returns home to Brooklyn to recuperate. Her boyfriend James (John Long), a war correspondent and freelance writer, tries to help as much as possible. But the relationship between them is as strained as it is loving. For one thing, James is burdened by guilt. He and Sarah worked side by side overseas, James filing dispatches while she took photos, until a nervous breakdown forced him to flee the war zone. Having abandoned her, he now seeks to be the man he failed to be. Sarah, too, suffers from feelings of remorse and secret grief. While James was away, she allowed her relationship with Tariq, a local interpreter (a “fixer” in press jargon), to become more than just professional. The affair did not end because of loyalty to James, but because Tariq was killed in the same blast that wounded Sarah. One thing that wasn’t destroyed is Sarah’s work, and when close friend Richard (Ross DeGraw) drops by for a visit, he’s wowed by the new pictures. A photo editor at a major magazine, Richard believes he can help James and Sarah to turn their war reportage into book. James worries that it’s too soon, but for Sarah the only way forward is by doing what she’s always done. Just as she readies herself to get back into the action, James finds himself infused with newfound desire for home and stability. After all, Richard and his pregnant wife Mandy (Assol Abdullina), seem happy (even if she is half his age). Renewing their commitment, Sarah and James decide to tie the knot, but the way forward is more fraught than a minefield. Simmering resentments and deep disagreements threaten to topple everything they’ve built.

The script goes to both painful and tenderly funny places as these intelligent, troubled characters navigate the intersection of personal and polemical. Both Sarah and James wonder if, for its righteous intent, their work even has any relevance anymore. Does anything really change? Or do readers linger only briefly on what Mandy calls “bummer stories”, before moving on to puff pieces and celebrity profiles? Does pointing a camera at tragedy commemorate, or merely exploit the sufferers? These questions are borderline unanswerable, but they refuse to go away.

Under Jerry Heymann’s tight direction, the little battles fought in the living rooms and kitchens no longer seem trivial. In their own way, domestic negotiations are as important as the larger crises raging in the world. Nagrant movingly captures Sarah’s battered idealism, her unspoken hurts, the blend of romanticism and trench-worn toughness with which she pursues her calling. Equally compelling, Long embodies James’s disillusion and resilience, his ambivalent relationship with the high ideals that both drive and drain him. The two leads receive ample support from the supporting cast. DeGraw strikes both the fatherly and conniving aspects of and editor’s persona with equal authenticity. As the uncorrupted Mandy, Abdullina provides both comic relief and a voice of hope. Brian Dudkiewicz’s sets Ashleigh Poteat lighting add realism and panache to this memorable production.

TIME STAND STILL continues through February 24, 2018 at 13th Street Rep,  50 W 13th Street New York, NY 10011 between 5th and 6th Avenues. Tickets: tssplay. brown-papertickets.com