Sunday, April 30, 2017

Lone Star by James McLure

L - R Christopher Parker, Brian Foyster, and Christopher Jordan - Photos by Elephant Stageworks

By Joe Straw

The Elephant Theatre Company presents Lone Star by James McClure and directed by David Fofi at the Zephyr on Melrose through May 7, 2017.

The first time I saw Lone Star was in Michael Shurtleff’s class back in the early ’80 with Judson Vaughn, Ray Powers, and someone else whose name escapes me.  Naturally, it was the actor who played Cletus. Can you fault me for that?

This was Shurtleff’s first class of the session, and the actors did the entire one act.  It was “as funny as all get out”, as my first wife use to say, and she knew funny.  She was a Lutheran from Cheyenne, Wyoming.

They have a saying up there – “Cheyenne, Wyoming, where men are men, and sheep are nervous”. - Narrator

But, here we are in Maynard, Texas, the year of, well the writer James S. McLure never said. (By the way, the Set Design by Elephant Stageworks is a work of art and is a magical space for actors to do their magic.)

Well, in this version by David Fofi, the director, it’s been a while since Roy (Christopher Jordan) has seen anything that resembles the military.  This particular Roy is a little older, more than a few years out of “Vit Nam”.  But take it to heart that he’s been there, Vietnam, and done that, his military duty. Drafted no doubt.  But now, it’s a Friday night and he always said that after he got out of “Vit Nam” he wanted to sit outside the bar, watch the traffic, eat, and drink beer, the only kind of beer that’s known to man and God, Lone Star Beer.

The trouble is that Roy has been doing that for years.

So, Roy sits outside the bar satisfied he has done all he needs to do, his duty, plops him self down on a busted up car seat on cinder blocks back behind the bar. His coolness has worn off with age, the pounds have accumulated on his gut, and the boots are dusty and dirty.  Still, there’s a touch of James Dean cool in him, and he still has that 1959 pink Thunderbird chick magnet, just enough to draw a smile from anyone of the female persuasion.

Roy plops the top off a beer bottle with the claw of a hammer he’s found out back and, should anyone come visit him back there, he is still sharing his war stories.  

Ray (Christopher Parker) is Roy’s younger brother.  He is a man who is not all there and proves it at every opportunity.  

“Did you take my wife home for me.” – Roy

“I did.” - Ray

(The key word here is wife.  And, it is not a question but a declarative statement.)

Ray’s come back after driving Roy’s wife home in Roy’s 1959 pink Thunderbird convertible and returned back to the bar to fetch Roy, leaving the keys on the bar inside. 

Ray enlists Roy to come back into the bar and talk to women.

“Look.  I’m a married man.” - Roy

One imagines this hits Ray like a ton of bricks - on his conscience - and he needs to tell Roy something about that but instead talks about his car.

Ray says there a few things wrong with Roy’s car, it’s running rough, needs points looked at, and plugs, and a new radiator cap, low tires, a new block, and a bunch of other stuff that needs repair.  In other words that chick magnet is a pile of pink masquerading as a car and has seen better days, which doesn’t sit too well with Roy.  

Tonight Ray has something to tell big brother Roy, something really important and Roy has something to tell Ray, something he’s on to him about.  

But before either one can say anything Cletus T. “Skeeter” Fullernoy (Brian Foyster), nervously walks back to talk to Ray, alone, and in private.  Roy is accommodating because he can’t stand Cletus who has been a thorn in his side since he don’t know when.

The best thing about this production is that David Fofi is back; doing what he loves doing best.

This is a production where I want to sit down with the creators and speak to what worked and what didn’t over a nice cold brew.  I think I caught this show early in the run so most of the things have probably been corrected by the time you see it.

For this production the comedy has to be played to extremes.  The actions on stage can be as broad in emotions and physical movements as can be to emphasize a point.  And, for the most part, this will this work if there are strong objectives. Strong character choices are required to carry out objectives.  Roy, Ray and Cletus are three very different people. 

Also, comedy works best when the hurts are accentuated. The performers in this play are members of The Actors Studio but the method of acting is not in full display here.  Maybe it was an off night for everyone. The lines didn’t come together easily, the relationships were not solid, and somewhere the broad comedy was lost.

This is not to say that all was lost.  There were funny moments, some poignant moment, but the actors lost their objectives, struggling on this night. And maybe it was just this night.

From the first moment when Ray enters the back of the bar, the audience needs to know they are brothers.  They need to witness the hierarchical relationship between the two men.  Aside from one being daft, there was hardly a difference. Ray has a reason for being there on this night and he is there to come clean. That should be something we feel the very first time Ray comes out the back door.

Roy thinks he is the smartest one, the master thinker, the one who thinks deep thoughts, and if he doesn’t believe it he is a lost soul. On top of his brains, is his brawn and amazing good looks.  When he wears his boots John Wayne has got nothing on him.

Ray’s got something going for him or else he wouldn’t have had the women he’s had, and for one woman in particular.  He’s got some brains too, just not his brother’s brains.  He looks to his brother, mightily.  But, he’s got something weighing on his conscience, something that he has to get out, and something he has to say to Roy to clear his name once and for all.  (I didn’t see any of that.)

L - R Christopher Parker, Christopher Jordan

The relationship between Ray and Roy did not gel the night I was there. They were across the stage from each other and this night looked like a normal night in their lives. But, this night is different. There were very little hints of one character wanting something from the other and that is something every actor must have, strong choices and a strong objective.

Also, Cletus has got to have an entrance, and a dramatic one at that considering what he has just gone through.  (Sorry, I can’t give this away.) That also should have been presented in deed and thought, perhaps a car part. And Cletus has to look up to Roy.  Roy should be a God to him.  He should, in a manner of speaking, lick his boots in praise of his idol to give us more of that relationship.

The night I saw Lone Star the actors appeared to have limited rehearsal time, more was needed for this production, and for the comedy.  The timing was off, and the relationships were tenuous at best.

Christopher Jordan

Christopher Jordan plays Jordan and on this night seemed to be grasping for lines, incorporating dramatic pauses where possibly none should be. Emotional intention is the key for this character. Most of the work is done if the intention, or objective, is clear.  Still there was a moment near the end that rang a solid truth and Jordan was terrific in that moment.

“How can you mistake an old woman from a bowling alley?” – Ray

“It was dark.” – Roy

“Oh.” - Ray

Christopher Parker is Ray, the younger brother. Ray should fear God and his older brother and maybe in that order.  Ray (I believe) has come to fess up.  That is his job. So when he first sees Roy he should make sure that his brother is alive, or cognizant to hear what he has to say. Ray has done a lot of things that he should not have been doing.  Parker did not establish a clear relationship with his brother or with God for that matter. He has done something that would have him in the clutches of the devil, paying an awful price, but we did not see that fear, or that comedy, and that is what we need to see.

“… I saw people without heads.” – Roy

“Were they dead?” – Ray

Brian Foyster did more things successfully as the character Cletus. But, the entrance needs work, and the relationship with Roy also needs a little work. Cletus needs a small injury on his entrance and he should come in with a dramatic purpose. The keys should be part of his arsenal coming out the back door.  

“He hit me in the head with a hoe.” – Ray

“He was probably trying to teach you something.  Probably had a moral to it.” - Roy

Lone Star is a play where one must define the moments in order for the comedy to work.

Pam Noles is the Stage Manager. 

Run! And take someone who has emotional issues.

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