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Princes of Waco

Robert Askins' Texas-set dark comedy sparkles with promise, but is ultimately overly predictable. logo
Evan Enderle and Scott Sowers in Princes of Waco
(© Zack Brown)
Robert Askins writes the kind of language that actors love to bite into, so a terrific four-person cast has a virtual feast in the playwright's Princes of Waco, now at Ensemble Studio Theatre. If you think early John Patrick Shanley crossed with an old Western film, you have some indication of the hard-bitten phrases that come out of the characters' mouths. But while the first act of this Texas-set dark comedy sparkles with promise, the second act becomes overly predictable.

The play begins in a bar, as the teenage Jim (Evan Enderle) is getting set to run away from home. His encounter with petty thief Fritz (Scott Sowers) proves to have lasting repercussions for both men, particularly once the young Esme (Megan Tusing) is introduced into the picture and becomes the focal point of a love triangle between the three characters.

Enderle is pitch-perfect as the wanna-be bad boy with a Jesus complex, and his first act scenes with Tusing's Esme practically sizzle with desire. His evolution into the more confident, yet damaged figure in the second act (set four years later) is well-modulated, with the performer occasionally demonstrating that the awkward and vulnerable kid he used to be still lies beneath Jim's toughened exterior.

Sowers makes a change in the opposite direction, starting out as a conniving S.O.B. and eventually showing off his more tender and weak-willed side. Tusing's Esme initially seems the picture of innocence, but even early on, the performer demonstrates that there's much more to her character than is initially apparent. Rounding out the cast is Christine Farrell as bartender Toasty, who is the only one not to undergo significant changes between acts, but who consistently amuses with her sassy rejoinders to Fritz's comments.

Dylan McCullough smoothly directs the production with careful attention to the rhythms of Askins' language. And even if the play's ultimate plot trajectory comes off as a bit hackneyed, the performers give it their all throughout.

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