Stillwater News Press

Arts & Entertainment

October 18, 2011

Oklahoma State theater department opens season with two one-act plays

STILLWATER, Okla. — Even before the Oklahoma State University theater department’s production of the one-act plays “Laundry and Bourbon” and “Lone Star” begins, two of the three eponymous items are immediately visible.

Although it isn’t as readily apparent, the third hangs over the set like a shroud.

The two companion plays, written by playwright James McClure, are set in rural Maynard, Texas, in 1975. “Laundry and Bourbon” opens on a sweaty afternoon on the back porch of a small house, where a decanter of whiskey sits on the windowsill and a load of flannel work shirts and sun dresses hangs on a clothesline.

The play centers on two young women in Maynard — Elizabeth and Hattie — as they deal with their husbands, Roy and Vernon. Roy has been home from a tour in Vietnam for two years, and Elizabeth, played by Liz Tabish, reveals he’s been having nightmares, can’t hold a job, starts fistfights around town and can’t seem to get anything started.

Elizabeth and Hattie, played by Sally Sparks, spend the first few minutes of the play discussing the weather and Hattie’s children, but a strong undercurrent of tension runs through the dialogue. Early on, Elizabeth tells Hattie that Roy hasn’t been home in two days.

Over a series of bourbons on the rocks, the two women fold laundry, watch game shows on television, talk about their marriages and quietly long for their high school days. Elizabeth makes excuses for her husband and Hattie reminisces about another man she nearly married. All the while, Elizabeth continues to gaze off down the road, hoping to see her husband’s beloved pink 1959 Ford Thunderbird convertible. The tension escalates later, when social climbing Southern Baptist Amy Lee Fullernoy, played by Kash Clemishire, stops by.

Over the course of the play, characters deal with a range of issues, including regrets about decisions made years before, an unstable domestic situation and the uneasy civility that governs relationships in rural, insular communities.

In “Lone Star,” the casual, back-porch drunkenness of “Laundry and Bourbon” is quickly replaced by higher-order drinking. As the play opens, Roy, Elizabeth’s husband, bursts out of a corrugated steel juke joint, roaring drunk, carrying a case of Lone Star beer, a bag of popcorn and several candy bars.

Roy, the audience quickly learns, comes to the same bar nearly every night, gets gloriously drunk and picks fights with anyone who will oblige him. Roy, played by Scott Venters, talks to his younger brother, the well-intentioned but simple-minded Ray, about his Vietnam experience and tells overblown stories about a wild night in Louisiana night clubs.

Much of the play centers on Roy’s struggle to deal with what he saw in Vietnam and his inability to come home and pick up his life in a place that changed while he was away. Roy is volatile and confrontational, and complains that Maynard is different from when he left for Vietnam — at one point telling Ray, played by Morgan Maxey, that “when you’re trying to come back to a place in your mind, you want it to be how you remembered it, not how it is.”

Over the course of the play, Roy tells Ray about the horrors of war, insults and threatens local businessman Cletis Fullernoy, played by Tim Mixon, and talks about old friends who have since moved away or, in one case, been arrested for car theft.

To prepare for the play, Maxey said, the cast did a fair amount of research, including reading newspaper articles from the mid-1970s and watching films like the 1963 western “Hud” and the 1971 drama “The Last Picture Show.”

Venters said to prepare for the role he read a good deal of literature about post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues returning veterans face.

Director J. Kevin Doolen said the play is occasionally difficult to watch. The dialogue turns quickly from comedy to tragedy, he said, and that switch is made all the more powerful by the venue in which the play is being performed. The production takes place in the Davis Studio Theater, a small stage in OSU’s Gunderson Hall.

The level of intimacy the theater affords is something to which the student actors might not necessarily be accustomed, Doolen said, meaning it’s a valuable experience.

“It’s really good training,” he said.

“Laundry and Bourbon” and “Lone Star” open Tuesday evening, with productions at 7:30 p.m. nightly until Saturday and matinee performances at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The plays include content unsuitable for children. Admission is $5.

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