If you're like most people, chances are there's a situation from your past, oft-told at small gatherings, that has always seemed worthy to you of dramatization. "After all," you say to yourself after having regaled a cozy audience of acquaintances with your oddly funny, slightly embellished tale, "people keep telling me that my life ought to be the subject of a play. Why not take them up on the idea?"
Before your collection of autobiographical moments will be ready for opening night, however, it will need to undergo a metamorphosis that transforms it from an anecdotal yarn into a drama engaging enough to play the big party. Most "slice-of-life" plays never clear that hurdle. A few step up from individual experience to address larger, human truths. And some, like local playwright Terry Dodd's Goodnight, Texas, leap and bound with great promise only to stall out somewhere along the way.
Originally a short story called "House Warming," the play, which Dodd also directs as the season-opening production at the Aurora Fox, begins on a stage packed with props and charming set pieces. There we meet Kristin (Amie MacKenzie) and Coleen (Luanne Nunes), sitting in lawn chairs among the many furnishings and bits of household kitsch that Coleen hopes to sell before her move to Seattle. The two TPs (short for "Texas Princesses") talk of Coleen's plans to divorce her bubba husband, Brad (Michael Katt), and make a new start in the Pacific Northwest.
Both marriage and Texas have left the women in the dust, and together the two friends weigh the life-changing potential of decisions that might remedy their disappointments. A handsome new arrival to town named Alec (Yanis Kalnins) buys a lamp at the yard sale, rendering Coleen breathless when she tells Kristin about her brief conversation with him. Guy (Eric Hansen), also known as Sweet Pea, then appears in the front yard, and we learn of his extramarital involvement with Coleen. Soon after that, her belt-buckle-wearing husband swaggers into view. Though he will later reveal his longstanding knowledge of his wife's tryst with Guy, he is, at the moment of his arrival, incensed that Coleen has committed the greatest sin among Texas women: She has sold his cherished handgun.
Act Two is another matter entirely, belonging wholly to MacKenzie and Kalnins. We learn that Coleen has left town (Brad is history, too), and Kristin begins the latter half of the play standing in her robe in front of her best friend's former home. Watching a fire in progress across the street (a regular source of amusement among locals in the arson-plagued neighborhood), Kristin meets up with Alec, and after swapping yard-sale stories, they strike up a fast friendship.
The forty-minute second act goes on to develop the absorbing dynamic between Kristin and Alec and could well stand on its own without the preceding half of the play, which is as cluttered as the second is clean. Except for some cute lines here and there, the first act is crammed with background information about Kristin that we neither need nor care about.
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Despite the efforts of Dodd's acting company to capture a few interesting moments drawn from the playwright's life (MacKenzie and Kalnins deliver touching performances, and Katt's cameo is enjoyable as well), Goodnight, Texas never transcends personal reminiscence to speak to the audience at large. Dodd doesn't clarify matters much when he asserts in his program notes that the play is about the difficulty of making adult choices--a description that could sum up the theme of nearly every play ever written. His program notes also point out that he doesn't wish to bore us by telling us what the play is about. It is, he says, a "slice-of-life. Pick 24 hours in your life and tell me what it's all about."
But if that's the stuff of which plays are made, why go to the theater at all? We'd do better to sit on the street and watch life go by as it's being lived, 24 hours a day. While we're at it, let's not write a script, rehearse, sell tickets or invite audiences, either. Presumably, patrons will magically show up to enjoy each slice of life just as it's being served. Real life, real plays.
Closer to Dodd's intended meaning, perhaps, is the notion that real-life experiences are the inspiration for plays, and he's right about that. Until Goodnight, Texas enlarges its observations to include the rest of us, though, it will remain just what it is--an interesting, sometimes poignant anecdote, and nothing more.--Lillie
Goodnight, Texas, through October 18 at the Aurora Fox Arts Center, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, 361-2910.