Here's a funny coincidence for you: Two theaters in this midsized city put on two interconnected one-act plays within six weeks of one another -- one with an entirely male cast, the other with an entirely female cast.
If you're a fan of theater reviews (is there such an animal?), you may have read a review in the June 26-July 2 edition about the Fine Arts Center production of James McLure's Lone Star that featured a cast of three brothers who returned to Colorado Springs from Nashville. Just a few weeks later, here comes more homegrown actors in another of James McLure's plays -- Lone Star's companion play, Laundry and Bourbon, which is now playing at Pikes Peak Community College with a cast of three fine women from our local theater community.
In good French-scene fashion, the play takes place in one locale -- the back porch of Elizabeth Caulder's (played by Rachel Gressler) home in Maynard, Texas, in 1971. Elizabeth is waiting for her husband Roy who disappeared two days earlier. Roy (who stars in the companion piece Lone Star) is a recently returned Vietnam vet who can't seem to get a handle on how to return to normal civilian life. In his absence, Elizabeth is visited by her best friend Hattie (Bekki Rasmussen), who escapes her raucous children and boring husband by drinking bourbon on Elizabeth's porch. Most of their conversation revolves around the good old high-school days where they double-dated and generally followed the high jinks of the boys.
After Elizabeth confesses that Roy hasn't been home in two days, the two are visited by another high-school companion, Amy Lee (Andrea Wright, who thinks herself better than the others by virtue of marrying Cletus, son of the town's appliance store owner. Some heavy drinking, catty talking and a good fight ensue.
Laundry and Bourbon's main interest stems from its examination of the minutiae of small-town Texas life where everyone knows everyone and has always known everyone, and the primary source of daily entertainment comes from picking apart one another's misfortunes. This ensemble does a good job of making such pettiness come vividly to life. While she's still a high-school student, Rachel Gressler is an accomplished actress and managed to convey a strong and relatively serene presence against the far more physical and active presence of Ms. Rasmussen. Together they provided good foils for one another, a tribute not only to their acting but to the casting and directing as well. Andrea Wright also did a fine job playing the country club ice princess who, with a few drinks in her, reverts to type quite quickly.
A word, too, must be said about the set, which was lovingly and masterfully executed. Lovingly, because the tiny stage not only had a back porch and laundry hanging on the line, but wheelbarrows full of dirt on the floor. Talk about realism -- that's ambition, and well-executed ambition at that. With the tiny budget available to this theater, such imagination and gumption is laudable.
Playwright James McLure seems to do a little better with the women of small-town Texas than the men, perhaps because three women sitting around spilling their guts is just more believable, or perhaps because his ambition appears to be more social portraiture than individual exploration as it was in Lone Star.
It's too bad that the production of Laundry and Bourbon didn't precede Lone Star because it is, in many ways, a better-written play and would have made less obvious the flaws in the latter. Still standing on its own, Laundry and Bourbon is particularly interesting for its ability to capture small-town working-class Texas before the full aftermath of the Vietnam War.
-- Andrea Lucard