When you're troubled and lonely in Texas, drink.
At least that's the message from James McLure's "Laundry and Bourbon" and "Lone Star," two one-act comedies playing weekends this month at Trifles restaurant in Crownsville.
Both are set in a small Texas town in 1972 and center on Elizabeth and Roy Caulder and Roy's pink 1959 Thunderbird convertible. The writing often is clever, and the actors from the newly formed Paragon Theater keep the crowd of 20 or so visitors laughing.
But underacting from Jan Kleckner, Elizabeth in "Laundry and Bourbon," made the piece less compelling than it could have been, and an unresolved subplot dragged down "Lone Star."
In "Laundry and Bourbon" we have the ingredients of a country song: a cheating husband, a hot Texas day and three women downing whiskey on the back porch.
Elizabeth, who pins her dreams on her childish husband, Roy, is joined by best friend Hattie and Amy Lee, a pompous Southern Baptist. The three throw back countless bourbon highballs as they reminisce about high school and evaluate their lives.
But Kleckner's wan depiction of Elizabeth fails to do her sentimental character justice. Her husband, who has "done more wandering than Lewis and Clark," has left without word for two days, and she's stuck on the outskirts of a town where "nothing has changed since the Civil War." Yet when Hattie asks whether she's pregnant, she smiles and answers, "Yep."
Michelle Pinkham rescues the audience from Elizabeth's grim circumstances with her loud, crude portrayal of Hattie, a source of drunken comic relief whose purpose in life is to evade her terrible children and comfort her best friend through the magic of whiskey.
Maria-Helena Diaz adds a vibrant dash of life with her refreshing portrayal of Amy Lee -- the pious woman who scoffs at Hattie and Elizabeth's drinking before joining them.
Amy Lee, whose "good" marriage landed her in the country club, melts after a few bourbons into a nasty back-porch gossip and naysayer. Diaz and Pinkham play the tension between their characters perfectly.
After a 10-minute intermission, the Caulders' porch is transformed into the rear of Angel's bar, where we meet Roy, Elizabeth's husband; Cletis, Amy Lee's husband; and Ray, Roy's brother, for "Lone Star." Kudos to the designers, who made sturdy sets that switch easily and quickly.
The boys were better than the girls in serving up comedy.
Tony Colavito is a convincing drunk (the three Lone Star beers he guzzled on stage might have helped) as Roy, a Vietnam veteran whose life revolves around his Thunderbird. But he is less persuasive in explaining the reason for Roy's angst. The play hints that his time in 'Nam might have caused his distemper, but it also suggests he was always foul-tempered.
Baby-faced and apple-cheeked Gregory Kemper is comical in his portrayal of dimwitted brother Ray, slipping in one-liners that make older brother Roy look dumb. Ray, who is gentle and plain, adds balance to the flashy and mean-spirited Roy.
Bill Hughes' performance as Cletis is a bright spot. His antics and milquetoast character as the underdog you want to defend but can't because he's sooo annoying are exasperating fun. And Colavito's bully to Hughes' coward is great chemistry.
A few plot twists, such as an affair that comes out of nowhere and goes nowhere, are confusing and disjointed, which is no fault of the actors.
"Laundry and Bourbon" and "Lone Star" continue through June 21.
Pub Date: 6/11/98