Nothing in Maynard has changed since the Civil War," says a young woman of her Texas community's stultifying ways. Consigned to a life of folding clothes, screaming at her three kids and indulging in midday liquor-laced gossip sessions, Hattie's sweeping assessment doesn't seem that far-fetched to anyone who's spent her whole life living in -- and dreaming of leaving -- her hometown. As Hattie and a pair of gal pals demonstrate in Laundry and Bourbon, changing the future is next to impossible without first burying the past.
MJM Productions and Artists Collaborative Theatre are presenting James McClure's one-act play (along with its companion one-act, Lone Star, which provides a corresponding male outlook) at the Oriental Theatre. While the actors tend to state the obvious rather than employ artful nuance -- the oversized auditorium, which is more suited to large-scale epics than intimate character dramas, is mostly to blame for that -- director Ed Fronheiser's broad-brush approach conveys each play's basic ideas.
In Laundry, the three actresses forge a triangular relationship that encompasses each woman's unresolved grudges and unrequited dreams. As Hattie, actress Susan Lyles alternately fires off one-liners and summons a wistful, nostalgic air. Seemingly in charge the minute she walks through her neighbor's front door, Hattie knows which of life's breaks to best exploit -- such as a relative's offer to watch her children. This occurrence permits her to wander next door and live vicariously through her neighbor, Liz, who desperately wants to improve her life but falters when encountering any opportunity for change (she's solidly played by Paula Jayne). In due time, Hattie and Liz are joined by Amy Lee, an insufferable "back-porch Baptist" who makes a point of reminding the other two of her country-club membership and marriage to a moderately successful appliance salesman. The role is given a sparkling portrait by University of Northern Colorado student Jennifer Lambertus, who earns the distinction of delivering the evening's most complete performance.
Laundry and Bourbon and Lone Star
Oriental Theatre, 4335 West 44th Avenue
Presented by MJM Productions and Artists Collaborative Theatre
Through January 27, 303-457-3630
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Following a brief intermission, Lone Star begins as a couple of Maynard's menfolk appear on the other side of the expansive stage (the symmetrical laundry room/watering hole setting was designed by Darren Smith). Thanks to the vivid descriptions provided by the three women, it doesn't take long to figure out that the drunken loudmouth staggering about the forestage is Liz's wayward husband, Roy. Soon, his younger brother, Ray, joins him, and the two proceed to down several bottles of -- what else? -- Lone Star beer. As they reminisce, argue and generally shoot the breeze, the men reveal long-simmering frustrations and disappointments; some of their musings underscore the women's conversation, but others take us by surprise. When Amy Lee's geeky appliance salesman of a husband, Cletis, steps outside to join the slightly morose revelers, the discussion takes some fateful turns. For the rest of the 55-minute play, we don't much care whether the three will try to change their lives; once all the cards on are the table, we wonder whether any of the men will be lucky enough to survive the night.
All three actors inhabit their roles with largeness of spirit, if not abundant shades of humanity. Several exchanges seem forced and lack spontaneity, but those problems might work themselves out as the actors settle into the play's run. Tim Elliott, who takes on the central role of Roy, starts on a fairly loud note and rarely strays from that level. While that approach communicates the idea that Roy remains as angry at life, if not more so, as he was when he returned from Vietnam six years ago, it doesn't permit us to see the man who desperately wants to find his way. Nor does his boisterous railing seem to arise from a long string of deferred dreams. Still, Elliott occasionally shows us a glimpse of Roy's underlying humanity -- especially during one beautifully played moment near play's end when he murmurs of his wife, "We'll always be together." As his younger brother, Ray, Phil Newsom imbues the gangly youth with an easygoing, sometimes endearing charm. And Mark K. Moran earns a few laughs as the waffling Cletis: Shortly after announcing that he'll forever forsake the habit of smoking that he started less than an hour ago, he tries, unsuccessfully, to put the kibosh on some smutty talk by saying, "I'm a Baptist, and we don't just sit around talking about our wives' sacred reproductive organs."
It's one of a handful of understated moments that make one wish for a quirkier, more nuance-filled approach to this pair of Texan tales.