Texarkana Waltz(Photo: © Carol Rosegg)
Texarkana Waltz
(Photo: © Carol Rosegg)
Texarkana Waltz isn't exactly a drama, and it's not exactly a comedy, either. Its perfect balance of humor and tragedy is summed up in scenes in which the ghost of a woman named Emma (Tina Benko) pleads for her son Houston (Adrian LaTourelle) to avenge her death. Sure, she's angry with her husband for brutally murdering her in front of their two children ... but a big part of her bitterness is due to the fact that her new, white blouse has been soiled with blood.

Weaving comedy into an ultimately poignant story, Texarkana Waltz beautifully conveys a message about healing and forgiveness. Eddie Wickett (Jesse Lenat) was very much in love with Emma when he suddenly killed her, and the violent act left young Houston out of touch with reality. Years later, his sister Dallas (Annie Parisse) and her lover Morgan (Caroline Bootle) arrive in Tulsa to take him out of a state mental institution and back to their new home in Seattle. The play mixes scenes about Dallas's struggle to create a new life with moments from the day of Eddie's execution years earlier, while also imagining a Wild West adventure that comes alive for Houston whenever he opens the pages of a children's book.

The cowboy scenes are the most intriguing, as they offer a glimpse into the mind of the one character that no one can understand. In the present-day scenes, LaTourelle captures the essence of a man stuck in a near-catatonic state, but he easily makes the transition into an eager young cowboy. In his fantasies, Houston believes that killing his father is the only way to prove himself a real cowboy; serving as his mentor is Cowboy Bob, a witty yet profound character played by Tom Wiggin. Though Cowboy Bob is his most important role, Wiggin is equally entertaining in a number of other, smaller parts: Nurse Bob (at the mental institution), Warden Bob (at Eddie's cell), and Father Bob (who visits Eddie on his last day and later joins Dallas, Morgan, and Houston on their trip to Eddie's grave.)

Though Texarkana Waltz jumps from past to present and on into imagination, it never loses focus. Each story has its own purpose in driving the characters to the realizations they need to reach before they can heal, if healing is at all possible. For Eddie, it may not be; his father, mother, Father Bob, and Cowboy Bob (his childhood hero) try to save his soul but all Eddie can say in response is that he has no soul. Dallas has to take her own journey to discover who she really is, frustrating Morgan but eventually confronting the past that she has tried so hard to escape. Parisse, seen in last season's Monster at Classic Stage Company, is first-rate in the role, hinting at the usually stubborn Dallas's vulnerable side.

Director Allison Narver succeeds in making the clever, complex script flow seamlessly from one scene to another. Michael Brown's sets change as easily as the scenes themselves. Louisa Thompson's costumes evoke the mood of the West, past and present.

Built around the tune "Texarkana Waltz," which Eddie used to sing to Emma, the play incorporates original music by playwright Louis Broome and additional music by Lenat. The musical moments border on fantasy, using Western-style tunes to extend the characters' inner conflicts. This whimsical mood is what keeps Texarkana Waltz from becoming too dark, and it helps to create a meaningful tale of dealing with hardships and learning where to go next.