Texas is a big, big state, with ribbons of roads that run forever and don’t seem to go anyplace.
That description of the state would also be a fitting description for "1959 Pink Thunderbird," the awkward, Texas-based season finale for In Tandem that opened Friday night and runs through May 18.
Thunderbird is really two one-act plays by James McLure, "Laundry and Bourbon" and "Lone Star." The two plays are presented together because there is a common thread of characters and story that runs through both of them, as well as a common location: Maynard, Texas, in 1978.
"Laundry" comes first. It’s about three women who went to high school together and then took divergent paths. All three women have a variety of problems, and they both share and shame each other.
To say "Laundry" is breathtakingly long and slow doesn’t begin to describe it. Nothing happens. It’s at one woman’s house. Her friend arrives. Then the third woman comes by, and they all gossip and then the two friends leave and the one woman is left alone. Thank goodness the lights came on for intermission.
It’s hard to know where to start when describing what happened – or more accurately didn’t happen – on stage.
Libby Amato, who I love onstage, plays housewife number one, whose back porch is the setting. Amato is wistful and spends more time meaningfully staring off into the horizon (minus the meaning) than really makes much sense.
She is joined by Lindsey L. Gagliano, who is the longtime friend number one. Gagliano gives new meaning to over-the-top performances. She is loud and overbearing, and she thinks she’s funny, but she’s not. She has two lengthy phone conversation with her children, and they are a perfect example of how nobody I know talks on the phone.
She repeats what the people on the other end say, so the audience isn’t left in the dark (like I said, I don’t know anyone who really talks that way). Plus, the conversations seemed to go on forever.
The third friend is Mary C. McLellan, playing the "I married into money and belong to the country club, nah-nah-nah and you don’t" friend.
There are a couple of real problems here. The main one is that nobody seems like a real person.
This is 1979 Texas. It’s a boiling summer day. The air conditioning is broken. They are drinking bourbon and cokes. This cries out for slow, but for some reason, the performances move at a pace that seems like some kind of weird race is being run. The contest seems to be who can talk faster and louder, and it ends up with Gagliano taking first place by a mile and Amato and McLellan in a tie for second.
After intermission, we move to "Lone Star," named after the famous Texas beer. It takes place behind a typical honky-tonk, featuring actors Matt Koester and Bob Maass as brothers.
Koester returned from Vietnam two years earlier while Maass didn’t go. Koester obviously has PTSD and can’t seem to get over his war and his youth. He’s also in love with his pink Thunderbird convertible, which was his personal symbol of the best of days and of the kind of guy he wants to be.
We open with Koester and Maass telling us how drunk they are. They then proceed to act like two perfectly sober men, one angry, the other forlorn.
Playing a drunk is a difficult task. But when you think about it, drunk people tend to slow down. They are careful with their words, exaggerating pronunciation so nobody will think they are drunk. Just slouching in a chair doesn’t say "drunk." They needed to find some depth. None of that appears here.
Koester is great at being fiercely angry at his brother and at his world. Maas is a monotone of a lump who tries to keep his brother from going off the deep end while teasing him at the same time.
And finally the appearance that just about brought the entire evening crashing down. Matt Zembrowski, the nerd husband of the country club wife in the first play, shows up. He looks and acts like a one-dimensional Pee Wee Herman. Nobody, and I mean nobody in the entire world, is even close to what Zembrowski gives us. His work is so thin that if I stuck a pocket knife in his character, it would undoubtedly come out the other side.
I will say that there are some moments of humor in "Lone Star," but they are few and far between, lost in a tidal wave of a production that is not nearly ready for prime time.
One of the most interesting things about this production was that Amato and McLellan starred in "The Nightmare Room" at In Tandem. The play was magnificent, and the two actors kept me riveted.
It was a shame to see them trapped in such mediocrity Friday night. It wasn’t worthy of them or In Tandem.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published Sept. 16, 2014
This has been a difficult week for the National Football League, the most popular sport in the country, by far. And the affairs of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Roger Goodell have raised a series of questions and which may be difficult to answer, but which deserve our best try at answers.
Published Sept. 15, 2014
Deborah Staples is an actor and an associate artist at the Milwaukee Rep. She is at the absolute top of her game and delivers memorable performances wherever she appears. It would seem that with her career and her family, there would be no room left. However, she has begun to scale a new mountain in her life as she steps behind the footlights to direct her first play.
Published Sept. 14, 2014
Sometimes stepping off the beaten path, or outside of the mainstream, can be fraught with peril but on occasion it can turn into a wonderful surprise and you pat yourself on the back for taking the big step. Such was my reaction after stepping into the deliciously tiny space of Theatre Unchained in order to see the production of "The Addams Family Musical."
Published Sept. 13, 2014
We may not have movie stars like California, oranges like Florida or corn like Iowa, but Wisconsin has a long list of excellent stuff we've given to the rest of the world. Here are the top 13 things that carry the "Made in Wisconsin" tag.
Published Sept. 12, 2014
The little Alchemist Theatre space is one of the real jewels in this city, and it comes alive in an amazing fashion with "Destiny, Deviltry & Dentistry," a hilarious collection of sketches running through Sept. 20.
Published Sept. 11, 2014
Political correctness has intruded on one of the most precious pillars of our government, a pillar that was embraced at the very beginning of this country.
Published Sept. 9, 2014
The Milwaukee Brewers can still run and hit and pitch and throw and catch as well as they ever could, but they aren't doing any of those things even decently now. And I think it's the fault of the manager.
Published Sept. 9, 2014
From that time on I have always thought those two things, intelligence and courage, were critical elements in any football player. And that's why I am so overly disappointed in the way the Packers opened their season last week against the Seahawks in Seattle.
Published Sept. 8, 2014
The Rep's new production is a rollicking start to the theater season and one that is full of everything that's great about country music: a sly sense of humor, an equally sly sense of what makes a good story and a devoted faithfulness to an era gone by and mourned.
Published Sept. 4, 2014
As the Milwaukee Brewers' swoon continues it won't be long before the finger pointing starts in earnest. I wonder if anybody is going to bother to look at the new right fielder, Ryan Braun.