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 May 4, 2017
There are many people in Milwaukee who lead very public lives. One of them, surely, is David Stearns, the general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. We sat down with him to see what makes him tick.
Published May 2, 2017
With a May 8 deadline looming, the war of words over a proposed strip club Downtown is escalating. A coalition of powerful business interests remain opposed, with the mayor and members of the Common Council on the other side, using Minneapolis as an example.
Published April 30, 2017
Let us all agree about what Junie B. Jones is not. She is not a crook. She is not a nutball. She is not in love with Handsome Warren. What she is, though, is the center of a wonderfully funny story, "Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook."
Published April 29, 2017
Theater can make you feel a lot of things, most of them wondrous, but on rare occasion it can make me feel like a dummy. And that's what I felt like after seeing "Jane Eyre," the final show of the season at The Rep, which opened Friday night.
Published April 27, 2017
It's impossible to stop thinking about the production of "Carnival" currently being staged at In Tandem Theatre, which I reviewed on opening night last week and is a fascinating example of what can happen when you stretch yourself and dream big dreams.
Published April 25, 2017
Start with a girl, beautiful and rich. Then add in her uncle and guardian who wants to marry her so he can get the money and toss in a high-born stranger who also wants the girl's hand in marriage. What you have is Florentine's "Barber of Seville."
Published April 22, 2017
For 15 years, under the guidance of art therapist Lori Vance, ExYoMKE has gone one-on-one with some of the most disaffected children in Milwaukee, children of all races and genders, and tried to help them see the world through the eyes of an artist.
Published April 22, 2017
One of the most wonderful evenings at a theater is when the show starts on a high note and just keeps getting better and better until you get to an ending where your heart is lying on the floor and your eyes are clouded with tears. That's "Carnival."
Published April 21, 2017
"The Fantasticks" is a simple little musical, the longest running in history, about a boy and a girl and being in love. The problem in the Off the Wall Theatre production is that the boy can't hold up his end of the deal, and the whole production suffers.
Published April 20, 2017
When I'm moved, I write, and fortunately, with OnMilwaukee, I have a place for that writing. The series of Uber tales from the road have run intermittently, but this story, more than anything else, proved that words and social media have the power to spark action, to make a real difference.