T-Birds and beer
Two much loved James McLure one-acts offer hilarity and thoughtfulness
Usually packaged under the functional title, 57 Pink Thunderbird, James McLure’s one-acts Laundry & Bourbon and Lone Star stand as two favorites of community theater—they’re both funny, ribald (bawdy even) shows with endearing characters (not that you’d ever want hang out with the likes of them after the show).The aforementioned Thunderbird is a recurring unseen presence throughout both plays, ostensibly a symbol of power of past glory days to a man, his wife, and the small circle of folk who reside in the fictional backwater town of Maynard, Texas, at the tail end of the Vietnam War. At times veering from slapstick to pathos, the Chico Cabaret here offers one of the most overtly hilarious yet thoughtful shows that are likely to hit the Chico stage this year.
As Laundry & Bourbon opens, we meet Elizabeth Caulder (Mary Crowlie) moving about languidly behind her house during the course of a hot Texas day, folding laundry and lost in thought. Her reverie is interrupted by the arrival of her nosy chatterbox of a neighbor, Hattie (Gail Beterbide). After some idle chatter (and some prodding from Hattie, who senses that something is bothering her friend), we find that Elizabeth is worried sick over her husband Roy, who has been absent for the two days prior, presumably tomcatting about in his beloved ‘59 pink Thunderbird convertible. He hasn’t been the same since returning from the war, and she is concerned about how he’s going to handle news of an even bigger change about to shape their future.They are joined at this point by Amy Lee (Judy Souza), a classmate from way back who has married into what serves as money in Maynard—one Cletis T. Fullernoy, son of the local hardware store owner. Amy Lee is a porcelain doll with Baptist fangs, dripping with salacious news about Roy’s whereabouts.
Meanwhile, with Lone Star we finally find out where Roy (Jeff Dickenson) has been keeping himself; hanging out back of the local town tap, drowning in bottles of Lone Star beer … for quite a while. He’s soon joined by his younger brother Ray (John Mich), who, not being the brightest bulb in the flower garden, needs to have some fundamentals explained to him by Roy. Soon we find out exactly how desperate Amy Lee was to elevate her social position with the arrival of Cletis (John O’Brien), who joins the boys with some life-altering news for Roy about the Thunderbird.
The women of Laundry & Bourbon handle themselves exceedingly well in the seemingly thankless job of offering the more pensive, restrained balance to the double bill. Whereas Lone Star is content to revel in balls-to-the wall bawdiness, Laundry & Bourbon is more introspective, by nature defining the protagonist’s pasts and setting up the subtle shadows of what follows.
As Elizabeth, Crowlie more than ably fleshes out a character defined by the pain of holding a man who doesn’t want to be held on to, with Beterbide and Sousa capably lending support. Lone Star marks the last hurrah for Dickenson before he bails for Tucson to pursue an MFA in Acting at the U of A, and he exits the Chico stage on fire—his turn as Roy is a sharply defined portrait of a man gone soggy, more set on trying to hold onto the past then facing his future. As dim-witted brother Ray, Mich manages a difficult thing: Not only does he manage to keep pace with Dickenson, he also manages to take his role, one that could easily played as straight buffoon, and imbue it with a sleepy-eyed lethargy that emphasizes innate slowness rather than mere stupidity, a fundamental trait needed to illustrate the shift in power between the brothers.
Especially well handled was a vignette involving Ray’s sly outmaneuvering of Roy’s attempted recreation of a sneak attack on the Viet Cong, a scene played so well that I had to wipe away tears of laughter. It wasn’t the only time during the show that I laughed to that point. The two worked brilliantly off of each other, cutting loose in a couple of roles that encourage pushing the envelope. The only odd note of the evening was the casting of O’Brien as Cletis, the former classmate of Roy; while turning in an enjoyably quirky performance, he’s disconcertingly a bit chronologically … off. Other than that, these two shows at the Chico Cabaret are more than heartily recommended.