The Queen of Bakersfield and Other Tales of Dust and Moonlight, Dolphinback Theatre Company, at the Lunar Cabaret and Full Moon Cafe. The premiere piece in Dolphinback Theatre’s “Night Swimming” series, The Queen of Bakersfield and Other Tales of Dust and Moonlight offers a welcome return to the American

folk tradition of storytelling. Greg Owens’s collection of tall tales, songs, and legends, performed by Dolphinback’s artistic director KellyAnn Corcoran and accompanied by Owens on guitar and Paul Leisen on cello, makes us feel we’re eavesdropping on half-true stories swapped over a campfire or shared by strangers in a diner late at night.

The characters in Owens’s stories are the down-on-their-luck American working people immortalized in country music, but because Owens focuses on the dark humor inherent in misfortune we can admire their endurance and bravery and sympathize with their bad luck, not cry in our beer with pity. In each of her portrayals Corcoran captures the paradox of “go get ’em” American optimism combined with the loneliness of individual despair, and she moves from story to story with a natural ease. Director Martin Hurm meets the challenge of making the separate pieces connect, establishing the milieu of each story with simple prop and costume changes. The musical transitions also convey a dark, passionate feeling that carries through from one scene to the next. Together the stories themselves and the telling of them in The Queen of Bakersfield make for exciting theater: an evening that looms larger than life.

–Gabrielle S. Kaplan