Pump Boys and Dinettes
“Though logic-choppers rule the town … An aimless joy is a pure joy … And wisdom is a butterfly / and not a gloomy bird of prey.” Those words, drawn selectively from a W.B. Yeats poem, came to mind after seeing the Studio Theatre’s very frothy production of Pump Boys and Dinettes.
Pump Boys is pretty close to an aimless joy: two hours of feel-good, sentimental songs, derived from a host of musical styles including gospel, rockabilly, country and blues. There isn’t really a story in this string of episodes evoking a sweet, cotton-candy vision of the South where good-natured mechanics (who never seem to get grease on their shirts) flirt with the pretty waitresses in hot pants at the Double Cupp Diner next-door. Romantic disappointment intervenes when the head mechanic goes fishing rather than showing up for a date, but he sheepishly tries to make up by offering to clear the empty beer cans out of his car. The two waitresses take to tap dancing and also sing about how they long for good tips. The sheriff looks the other way when a cow eats the mechanics’ marijuana plants.
Perhaps only a gloomy bird of prey—and as a critic, I plead guilty as charged—would complain that this show’s fluffier than a big bowl of whipped cream. The Studio Theatre’s previous Southern comedy, Sugar Bean Sisters, which had a few dark strands in its storyline, seems like social realism in comparison with the ultra-light, rose-tinted Pump Boys. And only a critic would notice that while the garage band sings the blues, there don’t seem to be any direct references to anything African-American in this Southern revue.
But let’s not be too hard on Pump Boys. It’s good-natured, and it never pretends to be anything more than momentary escapist fun. Some of the banter between numbers is diverting (if predictable), and several of the songs are toe-tappers. The women in the cast, Andrea Eve Thorpe and Michelle Hillen, put some zip in their singing and dancing. And the garage band has its moments: There’s a crazy gleam in Howard Gray’s eye as he plays the keyboards, and there’s a winning smile on Zack Sapunor’s face as he plucks his bass.