Harbinger Theatre Productions

Asphalt has never seemed like a sign of maturity to me. Buying a house, certain haircuts, a growing appreciation for Saks Fifth Avenue display windows, yes. But asphalt?

Playwright Lee Blessing, however, sees the steadiness and security of adulthood in an asphalt parking lot. And he sees the bygone joy of youthful exuberance in the dirt underneath.

His Toys for Men and Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music show five people dealing separately and very humorously with the pain and pleasure that come with the change from dirt to asphalt, from naivete to worldliness. The one-acts (which really seem more like the two acts of a full-length) are being presented in the spirit they were written in–with warmth, caring, and a whole lot of laughter–by the newly formed Harbinger Theatre.

Toys for Men, the first offering of the evening, is an homage to the old dirt parking lot that once was. Jim Stools (Rich Fredrickson), ex-biker and present proprietor of the Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music bar, finds himself stranded in his own parking lot, the victim of a broken-down truck. To top off the afternoon, Jim is being hounded by Roy Manual (Timothy M.P. Lynch), a ditchdigger whose brain works only sporadically.

Roy has fallen in love with Jim’s girlfriend’s niece, and he’s desperate for an introduction and sorely needed courting tips. (“You know I’m no good with women,” he pleads. “Women are always hitting me. Because I say stupid things.”) The two end up drinking and philosophizing in the truck: Roy longing for the kind of love that’s come into Jim’s life, Jim mourning for what he’s put aside for its sake–his biker friends, his Harley, and his beautiful parking lot that used to be “dirt . . . all the way to the street!”

Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music, the second play, is a celebration of the asphalt. It focuses on Jim’s girlfriend, Eva June (Kathy Zasadil), and Roy’s angel, her niece Catherine (Sharyl Burau). Catherine is just beginning to pave over the dirt and discover who she is. She has run away to her aunt’s house after contracting a strange disease that causes her to swear at nuns, bark like a dog, and do various other things that are inappropriate for nice Catholic girls.

Eve (Eva June is her new Texas name) becomes Catherine’s guide to the real world, teaching her that you can become whoever you want to. Eve herself has gone from being the bored wife of a Latvian scholar to happily running a Texas bar. She is proud of her newly discovered handyman skills, of her newly acquired “more Texas than a Texan” accent, and proudest of all of that asphalt parking lot. It is an emblem of her and Jim’s life together, a triumph of their love over their pasts.

Director Sandra Hutto’s staging makes the space appear more versatile than on first appearance. She has put together a nice ensemble as well, with everyone working with and for each other.

Kathy Zasadil is the anchor of the production; her Eva June is vibrant and sassy, with an enormous amount of empathy and understanding. As Roy Manual, Timothy M.P. Lynch bounces around the stage with endearing enthusiasm and ingenuousness.

Rich Fredrickson is a low-key Jim Stools, the ex-biker with a heart of gold. Originally cast as Eva June’s teenage son, Jason, Fredrickson doesn’t have the hard-ass toughness that Jim Stools claims, but his understated cynicism combines beautifully with Lynch’s bubbliness.

Joshua Feinberg, who stepped into the role of Jason (aka Jay Bob), completely captures the obnoxious awkwardness of adolescence. Sharyl Burau is stiff as Catherine. Still, she looks the part, and since Catherine herself is a bit of a misfit, perhaps that’s enough.

Damon E. Walker designed the truck, Jim Stools’s second home.