by James McClure
Thirteenth Street Repertory Theater
June 8, 2019
Texas Two Step Awash in Beer
It’s Angel’s Bar, a good-ole-boy hangout in Maynard, Texas with bales of hay, beer bottles, an outline of the Lone Star state on a door and graffiti on the walls. Two ragged men with battered Stetsons speak as one sloppily sweeps up escaping hay and I thought, ah, the performance. No, it was the house rules with the usual explanations about exit signs augmented with some barroom bits like “no touching.”
Enter the Chalk Sisters, country and western singers in bright pink regalia sequined to the max. On stage, the Chalks, Belva, Judeen and Judelle, talk, sing and play games with the audience. Offstage, as Leenya Rideout, Mary Brienza and Kathryn Markey, they are unrelated friends with a “back story” about being born and raised in Boggy Depot, Oklahoma and making their professional debut as very young girls while barely skirting child labor laws. They play their redneck sister roles to the hilt and belt out some good music with guitars, a washboard, clappers, and sometimes Belva on the country fiddle. A lot of their humor is devoted to putting down ex-husbands and men in general including their perpetually drunk daddy.
During their hour, the gals put on a “Chalk Challenge” with audience members performing stunts like drinking a beer from a boot. A woman who made and played a tambourine out of tin pie plates, bottle caps and ample attitude, deserved the candy she scored. There was also a Q-and-A with questions like “what two things do you do on a Sunday? (go to church and watch football) and one about the First Amendment that was flubbed. The Chalks are pretty good musically, excellent at trash talk, personable and very entertaining.
After intermission came Lone Star, a one-act play about blue collar Texans in the early ‘70s. Matt de Rogatis plays Roy, a Vietnam vet with PTSD whose life is largely devoted to getting drunk behind Angel’s bar—the link between the otherwise unrelated acts. Roy rages at his brother Ray, (Chris Loupos), and explains his philosophy about beer drinking, (swallows preceded by bites of a candy bar and a mouthful of popcorn), while revealing that all he has left are his wife, the women he has sex with on the side and his prized pink Thunderbird. We learn that Ray slept with his brother’s wife when Roy was in Vietnam. There is a riff from Cletis, (Michael Villastrigo), a clueless nerd who has wrecked Roy’s car but leaves this news for Ray to disclose. Ray explodes at the onslaught of bad news but his anger fades fast as he puts drinking and brotherhood first. At the end we are back to the men drunkenly watching the stars and the understanding that their future lives won’t be any different from the past. These guys want to do nothing and never did, exemplified by Cletis’ confession that his life would have been complete if he had owned the Thunderbird with Sandra Dee riding in it. We feel—mildly—for Roy whose military days briefly engaged him and also for Ray, even though—or probably because—of his good nature and acceptance that he was born second fiddle to his once-powerful brother who is stuck back in time when sex in the backseat was his life’s main focus.
Humor is woven through the drinking and reminiscing as when Roy describes the first time he saw a vagina and how it made him feel like the guy “who discovered the Grand Canyon.” There is also lot of scenery chewing and too much one-note volume especially from de Rogatis, a good actor I’ve admired in other works. This is a revival of the play by James McClure that was somehow sufficiently admired to bring it back, this time directed by Joe John Battista. All three actors offer differing takes on small-town, small- life despair but the play never fully captures their emotional washout.
The effective production design is by Kerielle Sollecito with lighting by Allison Hoffman. The costume consultant is Wendy Tonken and the production coordinator is Roslyn McKay.