It takes a special kind of actor to convincingly pull off a monologue that involves equating the discovery of the Grand Canyon with exploring a vagina for the first time. In Contemporary Theatre of Dallas' production of James McLure's slow-moving 1979 dramedy Lone Star, that task is given to an actor named Mike Schraeder, who delivers his lines in such a scarily convincing manner that it almost makes up for the crassness of the discussion.
Contemporary Theatre of Dallas is making its New York City debut off-Broadway at Theatre Row's Clurman Theatre with Lone Star, which is presented as the second offering on a double bill with McLure's similarly slow-moving dramedy Laundry and Bourbon. Why the 12-year-old Texas company chose to perform these two particular plays, which offer little in the way of engaging characters or enlightening stories, , is unclear from Cynthia Hestand's production.
Laundry and Bourbon is set on "Elizabeth's porch." Elizabeth (Marianne Galloway) is a housewife whose Vietnam veteran husband has been missing for two days. She is visited by her two gossiping pals, Hattie (Sue Loncar, the artistic director of the company), whose rambunctious children wreak havoc wherever they go, and Amy Lee (Marisa Diotalevi), born into poverty but now married to money. Drinks are imbibed, and secrets are possibly revealed. Meanwhile, Lone Star, named after the beer brand, takes place outside a bar on the outskirts of Texas and follows Roy (Schraeder) as he drinks and squabbles with his younger brother Ray (Joey Oglesby) and Amy Lee's doofy husband, Cletis (Ken Orman).
Besides passing references to characters, Laundry and Bourbon and Lone Star, which are frequently performed on the same bill, don't really have much in common. And as slice-of-life dramas, they're not particularly illuminating. However, what they do offer are great examples of acting-school exercises, complete with lengthy monologues, angst-ridden characters, and opportunities for a fair amount of scenery chewing (there's not nearly enough of that in this production).
Director Hestand pulls convincing performances out of her male actors, and Lone Star, which was on Broadway briefly in 1979, is relatively engaging. That's more that can be said for Laundry and Bourbon, which moves at a glacial pace. The design makes fine use of the wide Clurman Theatre stage, and plaudits should be given to scenic designer Rodney Dobbs, who knows how to economically convey two entirely different settings within one movable diorama of a set.
There's no doubt that Contemporary Theatre of Dallas has the best of intentions in presenting McLure's work to New York audiences. Unfortunately, one can't help but wish they had chosen plays that were more consequential.