Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company

The Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company is located in what used to be the quarters of the Joseph Holmes Dance Theatre. I’m glad the former occupants weren’t there to see what the current production of James McLure’s Lone Star is doing to the studio’s beautiful hardwood floor. Before the play is over the parquetry is sprinkled with cheese popcorn, half-eaten candy bars, ground-in cigarette butts, and much beer–some of it straight from the bottle, some spat or dribbled from actors’ mouths (fortunately, the character who pukes does it offstage).

I think one of the reasons I was so concerned about the floor was that McLure doesn’t give us much of anything else to be concerned about. Lone Star is another one of those jug-head comedies in which somebody says “Boy, are you dumb!” to somebody else every five minutes. The big dramatic question is how Little Brother Jughead Ray is going to break the news to Mean Drunk Jughead Roy (Ray and Roy–ain’t that cute?) that his precious 1959 pink Thunderbird convertible has been wrecked by Prissy Sissy Jughead Cletis. This news is expected to so devastate Roy that Ray works up to it by first confessing that he’d slept with Roy’s wife when Roy was away in the Army (Roy’s a Vietnam veteran–ain’t that touching?).

If the R & R brothers’ priorities seem a little skewed, it must be understood that this vehicle is no ordinary car. “I have had some of the best times of my life in that car!” declares Roy. These good times include a fight-and-fuck spree across the state line with his buddy Wayne and his first look at a “v’jiner” (shit-kicker accents–ain’t that funny?). “You used to let me smell the seats,” recalls Ray nostalgically. “You’d say, ‘Ray, that’s the smell of a woman!'” Cletis says he too wanted to be just like Roy. “And I could have–but you had just one thing I didn’t.” That one thing was the Thunderbird, possession of which determines men’s destinies. This is what moves Cletis to take advantage of the keys being left unwatched on the bar and to grab for one short moment of glory–a moment that proves fatal to the icon and to those who worship it.

McLure probably set out to say something serious about the loss of innocence and the disillusionment of the men who came back from the war to find that everything hadn’t stopped and waited for them. “Things is never the same!” laments Roy–many, many times. McLure probably also wanted to say something significant about the men like Ray, who were too young to enlist, and like Cletis, who stayed home and became successful–both of whom now feel guilty and inadequate for not having shared Roy’s all-American-male experiences. McLure had the makings of an important social comment here, but he obscures it with TV-comedy dialogue and characters as flat and tasteless as Lone Star, the San Antonio-brewed beer of which Roy consumes a case or two every Friday night while he throws his tantrums. “Who could possibly understand my hurt?” he howls. “The war made me like this!” Pretty tragic and possibly true. But doesn’t every drunk always have an excuse for his pain and the medication it requires? Even as a study of male bonding and rite-of-passage practices in our culture–and this play reeks of testosterone–Lone Star maps territory already explored ad nauseam by many other, better writers (the west Texas division being headed by Larry McMurtry).

The temptation with a script as flimsy and disposable as the aluminum beer cans that carpet the stage (the better to make lots of noise every time somebody moves–southern boys like to make noise, y’know?) is to play it as a cartoon and not waste time with analysis and character development and nuances. Director Matt O’Brien does not take this least-resistant path, however, and as a result the performances are as subtle and finely tuned as any you’ll find in the National Shakespeare Company. Karl Pothoff (Roy) and Craig Bradshaw (Ray) act their asses off to make these two haybrains into likable, believable heroes. They don’t succeed–the script cripples them too badly. But they manage to give their characters a few flashes of humanity amid the hee-haw humor. Danne Taylor doesn’t have enough onstage time to show us a third dimension of Cletis, but he works valiantly with what he has. I look forward to seeing them all in something more worthy of their skills.