New Country; mark Roberts as Uncle Him; Photo by Clay Anderson

New Country; mark Roberts as Uncle Him; Photo by Clay Anderson

By Tulis McCall

New Country is an interesting slip of a play.  Set in present day Nashville on the eve of what will be an unfortunate wedding, the PR tells us that this is the story of one Justin Spears (David Lind), a narcissistic man who gets more out of jerking folks around than he does performing his music.  Whom this story is really about, however, is Uncle Jim (Mark Roberts), Justin’s uncle and one man band of support.  Jim initially appears to be one sandwich shy of a picnic – but looks are deceiving.

Justin’s “people” Paul (Malcolm Madera) and Chuck (Jared Culverhouse) are on hand doing their best to manage the bachelor party details without having their heads lopped off just for breathing.  But staying out of Justin’s crosshairs is not so very easy.  In addition to this group is one Oliver Scott Junior (Stephen Sheffer), the bellhop in residence who is angling for a chance to give Justin a CD of his music as well as anything else Justin may want.  Ollie’s wish is to serve or be served up.

Once Uncle Jim arrives on the scene he pops off a few verbal rounds that range from loopy to vicious.  The men compare sexual equipment and stories.  Justin gets Jim to recount some of his famous exploits – the Injun who ran Jim over with her car, the midget and of course the fat woman…. (yawn) until Jim calls a halt by having a diabetic seizure.  This takes the air out of the tires, and everyone hitails it down to the party leaving Jim to natter to himself.  Which he does in an intimate and disarming monologue.

His sorrowful tale of self shaming ends abruptly when Sharon (Sarah Lemp) blasts into the room and the two of them engage in a speed conversation that defies gravity.  Once they run out of steam, we discover that Sharon is Justin’s EX.  It was she (and Uncle Jim) who put Justin on the path that lead to where he is today.  Sharon taught Justin how to play the guitar and supported him – literally – until she came home one day to find him in bed with her best friend.  It has been years since she saw him, and she is here to get a few things straight.

With all the characters and plot lines laid out, Mark Roberts writing becomes fairly predictable.  It does move fast, however, and everyone is enjoying their retributions so much that you aren’t bored.  These actors do a fine job of moving the story along at a slow gallup.  Everyone gets a chance to be vile, be stupid and be sincere.  Bases covered.  There is even a little music – old country, not New Country.  Roberts characters are clear and their motives are uncomplicated.  His humor is sharp – no surprise that he gives himself the best jokes – and his timing is spot on.

In the end, after some very clever writing that goes on too long (they were smart to make this one act instead of two) – nearly everyone has a firm grip on a knife sticking out of someone else’s back.  And you leave being grateful you are not one of them.

NEW COUNTRY by Mark Roberts Directed by David Harwell

WITH – Jared Culverhouse, Sarah Lemp, David Lind, Malcolm Madera, Mark Roberts and Stephen Sheffer

Fair Trade Productions, In Association With Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Presents the World Premiere Of New Country By Mark Roberts, May 16-June 20 At The Cherry Lane Theatre – Regular Performances: Tuesday-Saturday 7pm, Saturday-Sunday 3pm through June 20; Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street, Manhattan) $35;; 212-352-3101; 75 minutes with no intermission