The boys are back in town. The Childs boys, that is. And if you don't know who they are, don't worry, you probably will soon.
Jeremy, Josh and Jai Childs are natives of Colorado Springs and graduates of Sierra High School, and this week they're at the Fine Arts Center performing James McLure's play Lone Star after a stint in Nashville and parts east. And given that McLure's one-act play is about two brothers -- one recently returned to small-town Texas from fighting in Vietnam and the one who stayed behind -- there is a natural symmetry to the brothers' performance.
Set on a summer's evening outside a bar with a few old tires, a beat-up old car bench, and a case of Lone Star beer, the play belongs to the oldest Childs' brother, Jeremy. He plays Roy, a short-tempered vet who spends every evening outside Angel's bar trying to re-create his prewar past. He's clearly an accomplished actor, and he moves back and forth between big bully swagger and nostalgic stupor with grace. Playing opposite his real and fictional brother Ray (Jai Childs), he dominates the stage in more ways than one.
Jai Childs, meanwhile, plays younger brother Ray, who is trying to keep his older brother company while making sure to steer clear of his wrath. Ray provides most of the comic relief of the play, and the scene where he refuses to go along with playing the "gook" as Roy re-creates the steamy Southeast Asian jungle demonstrates outstanding comic timing. In general, Jai Childs doesn't quite have the stamina to maintain the character at full bore for the whole production, but his relative lack of experience probably won't be a problem for long.
The third (and middle) brother, Josh, has a much smaller part than the other two Childs boys. He plays Cletis, a childhood friend and acquaintance of Roy and Ray who now runs an appliance store with his father.
In contrast to the rough-and-tumble brothers, Cletis shows up in polished penny loafers and a button-down shirt. Stepping in as the straight man in the dramatic triangle, Cletis tries to stand up to Roy's bullying, but his inner weakness begins to shine out from behind the polish, and the part is played perfectly with a kind of slightly-turned-shoulder-and-neck twist that instantly conveys his struggle to maintain his dignity in the face of physical intimidation.
For all that the Childs brothers achieve as an acting team, though, Lone Star falls short of great theater. While attempting to portray the various hurts of a man who, as they saying goes, can't go home again, author James McLure has either taken on too much, or just not quite enough to fully satisfy. To begin with, Roy's character trajectory (from drunk to drunker) doesn't bring the viewer any closer to his core. Furthermore, while the long disquisitions about sex, cars and small-town hijinks are amusing and slightly revealing, McLure expects these ramblings to carry too much freight without giving the characters (especially Roy) enough specificity beyond the caricature of small-town Texas playboys.
Adding to the somewhat saccharine aftertaste of the play is its "look at those stars" kind of pap ending that's just too tidy. For all the bad things that have happened to Roy, the audience hasn't been taken sufficiently deep to carry a sentimental, pseudo-metaphysical ending.
All in all, McLure's play just doesn't give the Childs the material necessary to use their considerable talents. And with Jeremy's presence, Josh's physicality and Jai's comic timing, there's a lot of them there. Now they just need to find some less conventional, more tightly structured material to showcase their acting abilities, and Colorado Springs will be the better for their homecoming.