By Sarah Downs
Honestly, I don’t know why this production at the 13th St. Repertory Theater is referred to solely as Lone Star when the ‘warm-up’ act is a trio of hilarious female country singers, The Chalks, who perform for an hour before the play begins. In a performance that is slated to go on for 2 1/2 hours with intermission, that is roughly half of the show. So I rechristen this evening “The Chalks, followed by a mercifully brief one-act play.”
First, the good news: The Chalks are delightful. This trio of Chalk sisters, Belva (Leenya Rideout), Judeen (Mary Brienza) and Judelle (Kathryn Markey) sing plaintive country songs accompanying themselves on a number of instruments, including some virtuoso cow bell. (more cow bell!) In bedazzled blue jeans and bright pink shirts, the Chalks harmonize on the subjects of life, love and sorrow — well, more revenge, really — in song after clever song, in an hysterical yet gentle send-up of country music. The irony is brilliant. Rideout and Brienza are particularly adept at the unique country sound that gives the voice enough point to pierce through through the sound of the instruments and across the footlights. Given that the 13th St. theater is a remarkably ‘dead’ house, despite its small size, that is pretty impressive. All three actresses bring unique comedic flair to their performances. With some hilarious audience participation and seamless improvisation, the hour of music flies by.
Alas, I wish I could say that about Lone Star. The play clashes so strongly with The Chalks, I question why anyone would have thought to present the two together. As written, Lone Star is already a more angsty, serious play, putting it at a disadvantage following any comedy act, especially one as engaging as The Chalks. Unfortunately, as performed by this cast, it is at an even worse disadvantage. In other words, it is a disaster. 1) the casting, 2) the direction (or lack thereof), 3) the caricatures, 4) the shouting!, 5) the lack of connection with either the material or the audience.
The story of Roy (Matt de Rogatis), his brother Ray (Chris Loupos – who is apparently a photographer, not an actor, and it shows) and Cletis (Michael Villastrigo) could be interesting, but I’m darned if I know how. Roy the aimless, angry Vietnam vet drinking cases of Lone Star beer relies on his somewhat dimwitted younger brother Ray for emotional support. Roy also relies on the hapless Cletis, the bullied underdog from high school who now runs his father’s hardware store, to be his punching bag. Just in case we don’t get the fact that Cletis was the class dweeb, costumer Wendy Tonken has decked Villastrigo out in flood pants pulled up so high it’s amazing his appealing baritone voice isn’t a falsetto, a pocket protector loaded with pens, and, of course, glasses. (Girls don’t make passes at geeks who wear glasses.)
The play drags on and on, with no focus or direction. The actors wander, the story wanders, our minds wander. It inspires no interest in the material. Ironically, the musical send-up of our country cousins charms while the serious play insults Texans with its campy portrayal of hicks with overly emphasized twangs and complete lack of self reflection. The Lone Star state deserves better.
Lone Star, with The Chalks (week one) and Leenya Rideout (week two), presented by Ruth Stage and the 13th St. Repertory Company. Lone Star, written by James McLure, directed by Joe John Battista; with Matt de Rogatis, Chris Loupos, and Michael Villastrigo; The Chalks, original music and performances by Leenya Rideout, Mary Brienza, and Kathryn Markey. Lighting by Allison Hohman, costumes by Wendy Tonken.
At the at the 13th St. Repertory Theatre (50 W 13th St.), for eight performances only: June 6th, 7th, 8th, 13th, 14th and 15th at 7:30 pm; June 9th and 16th at 3:00 pm. Tickets are $20, general admission. Tickets available at Brown Paper Tickets. Run time: 2 1/2 hours with one 15 minute intermission.