Mars bars, Baby Ruths, bags of salty chips and popcorn surround a beach chair. An ice cooler sits next to the beach chair, not too far from a two by four.
These hallmarks of “Redneck” life are all the props the actors need to tell the story of Roy from James Mclure’s “Lone Star.” This one-act play has some hilarious moments that the menfol will absolutely eat up. Simply put, its focus on male bonding and brotherly love will endear it to a young college crowd. Even an older audience will see the jokes coming and want more, but sadly, will not get it. While the presence of three talented actors on stage bolsters the effort, the material doesn’t bring out their precision the way it should.
It’s 1972 in Maynard Texas. It’s been two years since Roy Caulder has returned from Vietnam. His days as a high school jock and ladies’ man are behind him. His 1959 Pink Thunderbird once made him the envy of all the other guys in town. Today, that Thunderbird is breaking down, but Roy is determined to keep it going. He won’t let her go just like he won’t let go of his past. He puts on his macho façade when he is around others in order to show everyone he is still the young, badass football player from high school.
Alone, however, Roy is far from that kid. He knows that. Actor Matt de Rogatis’ lets the audience know too as he expertly captures Roy’s emotional struggles with his facial expressions and voice. His face goes limp and seems to age. His voice goes low and is haunted as he remembers the carnage of war. The trauma of war and death terrify him of change. It’s this fear that has him looking up at the Texas sky at night and admiring the stars because they do not change. He points out the Big dipper and Orion to his younger brother, Ray, as he extols their constant nature, which is unlike human nature and life. Unfortunately, these moments of honesty are few and far between. They are overtaken by the childish banter. Thus, the audience does not get enough to feel strongly for Roy’s plight.
Roy looks for comfort in memories of his glory days before the war. However, the trauma of war interrupts those memories with gruesome images from the war. Things have changed for Roy. And it falls to younger brother Ray to help him make peace with those changes and embrace them. It’s fair to say that Ray has played the simple brother role next to Roy’s macho big brother’s role since childhood. Roy did great in football, but Ray hurt his knee playing football. Roy was accepted into the Army and went to Vietnam and Ray did not because of his bad knee. In fact, he is not allowed to say “Nam,” because he did not go to Vietnam, a rule declared by Roy. Ray is content with being Roy’s simple younger brother, but the Universe has decided to change things for Ray, too, in the form of Cletis.
The fates deliver some help to Ray in the form of Cletis, a sorry soul who was once the object of Roy’s bullying in high school. Cletis worshipped Roy in high school and still does. His chance to be like his hero comes when he finds Roy’s keys to his Thunderbird. He takes the car for a joy ride and smashes it into pieces. Cletis begs Ray for help and Ray tells him he will take care of it. What ensues are the very clever machinations of Ray that help Roy accept that his Thunderbird is gone and that things change. Here, Mclure relies on absurdity to deliver this scene. Ray confesses to Roy that while he was away he slept with his wife in the Thunderbird and several other places. Roy explodes with anger and shock. He wants to attack his brother, but he doesn’t. He can’t because despite everything, Ray is his brother. It’s a brief and poignant moment. He simmers down and when he learns about his Thunderbird’s demise, he accepts it and that it is time to embrace change and buy a new car. This moment exemplifies the weakness of Mclures’ writing. As soon as audiences get a glimmer of maturity in these characters, the play quickly moves on to something as silly as the idea that it is easier to hear about wife’s betrayal than the loss of a car.
Throughout the play, there are funny moments between the brothers that bring their bond to the forefront. The humor is very much “Frat boy” humor such as when Roy teaches Ray that the right way to enjoy a Baby Ruth is to take a bite of the candy bar, follow it by salty popcorn and then take a swig of beer. The comradery between the brothers is endearing and would entertain a young college crowd.
de Rogatis’ acting chops are on display throughout. He conveys Roy’s moments of pain and joy that are underlined by his desperation to feel better about his life. He is unafraid to use his body and make great use of the space around him as he kicks things, slides around on the floor for a scene. His face reddens as he shouts out lines that call for anger, and one-act play hat same face seamlessly looks like it is about to break into tears as painful memories well up inside of him.
Chris Loupos does his best to play good-hearted Ray. He captures the subtle intelligence and depth of this character. And Greg Pragel clearly gives a lot of his energy to his character Cletis, but he like the other two actors is let down by Mclure’s play. There is simply not enough in the writing to give these actors the opportunity to show more of their range. It barely deals with Roy’s trauma from the war. As a result, it’s more of a solid production with talented performers, highlighted by moments of light-hearted humor, when it could have been something so much more.
In the end, “LoneStar” has some humorous moments, but it is not enough to hold the play together. The three fine actors are working with material that is dated and thin. The trauma of war is brought up, but there isn’t enough of the pathos needed for this play, which would have given the actors a strong and solid play to work with and audiences a better story.
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