The Group Rep kicks off its forty-fifth season with a pair of comedy one-acts by James McLure that are cemented in a particular time and place—the early 1970s in the small dusty town of Maynard, Texas. In Laundry and Bourbon, the Viet Nam War is grinding down, women are wives decades away from the Twenty-first Century surge of feminine power, and men are confused and piggish. Elizabeth (Savannah Schoenecker) is distractedly folding laundry on the back porch, gazing out at the bleak horizon, when her friend, Hattie (Kristin Towers-Rowles) stops by for a schmooze. The lively conversation is centered on their marriages, which are problematic for very different reasons.
Elizabeth’s husband, the Viet Nam vet, Roy, is not the boy she married right out of high school. He is moody and disappears from time to time, his only consolation a classic 1959 pink Thunderbird convertible. Hattie got dumped by the boy she loved in high school, and in her rage settled for the boy she could get and three children. Hattie is a motor mouth and the banter is lively as they swill bourbon highballs in the heat of the afternoon. Elizabeth and Hattie are joined by Amy Lee (Sarah Zuk), a country club, Southern Baptist, social-climbing, bridge-playing type, that both women disdain. And as the booze continues to flow, the scene is enthusiastically played, leavened by moments of poignancy.
After intermission, the men take charge with Lone Star. It’s late at night behind Angel’s bar in the same town, and Roy (Nick Paonessa) is on a bender with his little brother Ray (R.J. DeBard). They swill down bottle after bottle of Lone Star beer as they gobble Slim Jims, Mars Bars, and popcorn while they shoot the shit. As delivered by Mr. Paonessa, Ray is a titanic figure on stage, prowling, growling, laughing, and expressing his wartime, post-traumatic syndrome in his own unique way. Little brother Ray takes Roy’s mostly light-hearted scorn with Sancho Panza-like reverence.
The brothers are joined by Cletis (Todd Andrew Ball), Amy Lee’s businessman husband, who has taken Ray’s disdainful abuse since high school. Cletis admired Roy in high school, trying and failing to emulate him. Roy heaps cruelty on Cletis, which the storeowner endures for a reason soon to be revealed. There is a lot going on in the scene. There is passion, angst, love, fear, worship, secrets hidden and revealed and more. Lone Star is a high-speed, freight train of a play.
Not for nothing, the first time that Laundry and Bourbon and Lone Star were shown together at the McCarter Theatre in 1980, the event was entitled 1959 Pink Thunderbird.
Under the smart direction of Barbara Brownell, Laundry and Bourbon and Lone Star is handsomely mounted by the production design team that includes Chris Winfield (Set Design), J. Kent Inasy (Lighting Design), Angela M. Eads (Costume Design), Steve Shaw (Sound Design), Amanda Newman (Fight Choreographer), Doug Haverty (Graphic Design), John Ledley (Stage Manager), Todd Andrew Ball (Assistant Director), Doug Engalla (Photographer/Videographer), and Kyra Schwartz (Set Dresser).
Produced by Lloyd Pedersen, The Group Rep presentation of Laundry and Bourbon and Lone Star continues through March 3 in the Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood.