There’s never a dull moment in Maynard, Texas with the lively characters of James McLure’s Laundry & Bourbon and Lone Star running around the placed. Offered as a double bill in Fells Point Corner Theatre’s 2nd Floor Sokal Stage, this rich salt-of-the-earth style comedy brings you ‘day in the life of’ style drama with all of the hilarious aspects of keeping one’s self amused in the desert. Directed by Lance Lewman, it’s a knockout comedy that will have you howlin’ at the moon and scootin’ your boots through the dust before all is said and done.
Set Designer Jerry Hillyard utilizes brilliance in his creative genius to create two stunningly complex pieces in one small space; flawlessly transforming one to the other in a matter of just 10 minutes time over the course of the intermission. Hillyard gives the ladies of Laundry & Bourbon a weathered old back porch; homey and quaint, complete with ivy covered lattice side boards and little leaning rails. He then transforms that perfect little patch of hillbilly heaven into a derelict dust covered and rust ridden back of Angel’s Bar for Lone Star. There are tires galore, an old car seat, and metal cans so rusted through and filthy you couldn’t be anyplace but the back of a crumblin’ old Honkeytonk. Hillyard’s detailed scenic work solidifies the location and time of the production, assisting the audience in that down home transition into Texas.
Lighting Designer Cara Antico eases the passage of time with clever but subtle shifts in lighting. The girls on their back porch have bright full day sunlight that dims gently toward the latter half of the production. By the end of their play the lights are drastically darker as they sit and talk about watching the sunset. Antico gives us subdued blue moonlight with hints of white twinkling down onto the stage for all of the stars that Roy and Ray speak of during their time out on the back of Angel’s bar. While subtle these designs are the perfect accentuating touch that allows the fluid motion of time to ease itself into the play without overpowering the action of the actors.
Featured first on the stage are the women of Laundry & Bourbon. The trio has a cohesive deeply-bound relationship between them; easily portraying the aspects of “frenemies” friends who are really your enemies. All three of these talented performers masters the slow thick southern drawl of a place stopped by time itself and left behind in the dust of progress, their words tainted with missing g’s and harsh inflections in places that make them sound like farmers from steer country. Director Lance Lewman’s efforts to give these gals the perfect sound are rewarding for the audience, pulling us even further into the events of life as it unfolds on Elizabeth’s back porch.
Elizabeth (Zarah Rautell) is the lonely frustrated housewife whose troubles are tantamount to the end of the world, at least to her. Rautell digs into the grit of this character, delving deep into the troubles of her inner psyche and translates these emotional issues into her longing eyes and desperate pleas. She portrays a true ‘lady of the south’ trying to keep her problems all her own and still maintain day to day chores like folding the laundry; burying her anxiety into the mundane physical task work of folding the clothes in the basket. It is fascinating to watch her certain items of clothes get folded with a careful precision when her character is calmer, verses when they get rolled up and balled up as her character’s emotions seep out into her work. Her emotional outbursts are few and far between, Rautell choosing the more subtle methods of cathartic release, like channeling her feelings into pouring drinks and folding laundry, but when she does have an outburst it’s like a pressurized seltzer bottle erupting after stabbing a nail into its side.
Rautell’s interactions with Hattie (Tessa Blische) create for a good deal of the comedic moments in the production. Blische crafts a hilarious character by deeply ingraining a sense of deadpan humor and sarcastic wit into her speech. She has great vocal control utilizing volume, inflection, and intonation to her advantage when importing emotions into her comic lines. Blische has a keen sense of comedic understanding, knowing exactly how to deliver some of these great zingers, especially when speaking to her wayward children on the phone— a scene that keeps the audience filled with hysterical laughter. She takes to dry humor like a pig to mud and turns it out in a fashion that makes this character one uproarious lady.
And the real fun has only just begun because when Blische’s character meets Amy Lee (Sarah Laughland) all hell breaks loose. The pair snipe at each other with no mercy, all veiled behind those cringe-worthy false niceties. And when they truly get into it the furies fly likes tumbleweed caught in a tornado. Laughland plays the cloyingly sweet holier than thou do-gooder of the town. With an obnoxious smile the size of Texas itself, her character sets your teeth on edge just to see her on stage. Laughland rolls into her preaching mode like a car shifting gears and when she does the stage starts shaking like her vocal outbursts were leading a Baptist tent revival. Of course when she gets to gossiping with Blische, the pair create vocal gold, spewing forth from their lips like two hens clucking about in the dust. It’s a brilliant little comedy infused with moments of real life drama, three talented actors and great one-liners that will leave you laughing straight through to the second play.
Lone Star carries over character and plot elements of the first production whilst leaving the ladies behind. Featuring three men (who’s characters were mentioned but never seen in the first play) this performance takes on a slightly heavier tone but still maintains a strong comedic vibe. Right away the audience is introduced to Roy (Eric Park) a boisterous rowdy drunk. He’s messed up something wicked from Vietnam and often appears to be playing without a full deck; but not in the funny insane sort of way, more like the dangerous crazy style. Park keeps his Texas accent subtle, only letting it really fly when he’s hollering at the top of his lungs or howling at the moon like a coyote. He carries a terse tension in his physical stance, reflecting how very bitter he is; stuck in the past like a truck stuck spinning its wheels in the mud. Park has an explosive side that’s wilder than dynamite, especially when he starts swinging the 2×4 about the stage.
Park is little more than a hick from hayseed county, and his brother Ray (Andrew Porter) is the same. Porter masters the character’s southern simplicity, elongating words, speaking a bit slower than most, even letting his face look hangdog from time to time. While Porter’s character may be simple bordering on stupid, he has a firm grip on reality and knows when Park’s character is spouting off lies. Porter plays his facial expressions to his advantage, letting them do a world of telling and explaining when his character is limited to just a few words. His moping slow talk when the car jokes start rolling make them that much more hilarious.
And then there’s Cletis (David Shoemaker). Not a brother, not even really a person who belongs anywhere near a Honkeytonk, but rather a terribly skittish little man. Shoemaker makes this simple character a riot on stage; twitching and shuffling his feet, letting his nerves overtake his whole body, from pinched frightened voice to trembling fingers. He looks the part with the slicked down hair and high buttoned up shirt— complete with pocket protector— and he uses the text to make himself sound even more geeky, softening his voice for awkward and shy moments. His physicality is impressive; his body falling limp like a ragdoll in scenes of conflict, and it makes for a great night when he gets flung off the stage. Shoemaker’s character is in a perpetual state of embarrassment and awkwardness, which makes for an absolute comic riot when paired up against the bullying, furious Roy.
Laundry & Bourbon and Lone Star are two great Texan comedies that will keep your spurs jingling because you’ll be laughing so hard. Just make sure you hop on down to Fells Point Corner Theatre to see them before the drift away in the desert wind.
Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.
Laundry & Bourbon and Lone Star play through March 3, 2013 at Fells Point Corner Theatre— 251 South Ann Street in upper Fells Point in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call (410) 276-7837, or purchase them online.