Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Lone Star Spirits
Jungle Theater
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's reviews of West Side Story, Side Show and The Realish Housewives of Edina - Season 2


Nate Cheeseman, Thallis Santesteban, John Catron,
and Christian Bardin

Photo by Dan Norman
The compact lobby bar is open for playgoers arriving at the Jungle Theater before show time, but venture into the house and another bar is selling bottles of cold beer up on stage as part of the set for Lone Star Spirits. Unlike the artsy feel of the lobby bar, this one is definitely rustic, housed in the down-at-the-heels liquor store that bears the same name as the play. This bar sports a mounted stag head over one door, the Lone Star state flag of Texas on another, numerous electrified signs advertising popular beer brands, 1960s style soda and gumball machines, and a battered card table ringed by three nondescript mismatched chairs.

Lone Star Spirits, a very funny comedy by Josh Tobiessen, brings together five people with various claims on each other's loyalty. The play opens (after the on-stage bar shuts down for the night) with Drew popping into the store to visit Walter, his friend and the store's proprietor. Drew is in his mid to late 20s, and lives dimly on the memory of a game-winning touchdown he scored at the high school state football tournament. His ambition now is a fundraising campaign to erect a life-sized sculpture of himself, since their hard times town needs to remember its leading hero. As Drew states, "They say those who don't remember their history are doomed to ... are doomed to ... well, they're doomed!"

Walter is an old timer struggling to keep his shop afloat as everything else in the town shuts down. This day, Drew has stopped by for more than a friendly visit. He knows that Walter's daughter Marley, who lives in Austin and has not been back in town for seven years, is coming to visit her dad. Drew dated Marley back in the day and imagines they can pick up where they left off. That leads to a big surprise when Marley shows up—in a stylish business dress, trendy shoes, and a decidedly urban-chic haircut—with her Volvo-driving fiancé Ben. Marley became a lawyer and Ben recently started an online men's accessories business, selling items that Drew barely imagines existing, let alone using. Drew tries every which way to make Ben look foolish and wimpy, hoping that the contrast will draw Marley back to his manly wiles. This includes bargaining over a sale price for those three mismatched chairs (which Ben fawns over as great mid-century finds) and showing Ben, who has never held a gun in his life, his hand gun—prompting erudite Ben to comment on the impressive patina of the handle.

Also in the mix is Jessica, a single parent whose husband was a soldier killed in Iraq She shows up to buy juice for her young son and vodka for her mother before embarking on a "girls night out." She and Marley also went to school together and possibly were friends. When Marley asks her, just being sociable, if she's happy, Jessica snaps back with a litany of her woes—a kid to feed, a dead husband, a lousy job, a wrecked car—ending with "We're adults now. Happy is for children." In time we learn what led Marley to visit after all these years, and more about past, and possible future, connections among these folks. Of key importance, we hear about the ghost of town founder Howard Whitman. Howard built the structure now occupied by Lone Star Spirits and Walter is certain that Howard's ghost resides there, influencing the fortunes of all who pass through, giving another dimension to the play's title.

Tobiessen shows great talent for creating distinctive characters and writing dialogue for each of them that sounds like the genuine article. The plot serves out several unexpected twists that keep the audience on their toes without ever stretching credibility. Tobiessen also mines the rich vein of humor found when people communicate at cross-purposes, fueled by their own, unsubstantiated assumptions. Sarah Rasmussen directs the piece with an eye and ear for the differences between the five characters, who process the ongoing events with different response times and frames of reference. It makes for great fun, with jabs at the characters, but also with affection for each of them.

Terry Hempleman is a genius at playing grizzled men whose dreams seem to have leaked out of their life, as he demonstrated with recent turns in Annapurna and Buried Child. He brings the same quality to Walter, but with a streak of generosity and kindness. We feel for this man who has made bad choices, but never in malice. Thallis Santesteban impresses as plucky Marley, who has worked hard to move past the pitfalls of her past life and isn't about to start tripping on them now. Nate Cheeseman and John Catron are both hilarious as Drew and Ben, respectively. Cheeseman's Drew epitomizes an overgrown boy whose life peaked when he caught a football eight years ago, while Catron makes Ben an overly verbal, sensitive new-age guy who is tantalized by the thought of trying on some rough edges. Christian Bardin completes the cast as Jessica, a tad too blowsy at first, but settling in as a gal who pares life down to its simplest elements in order to make a go of things, with nary a thought of there being a different path. Having last seen Ms. Bardin in male drag as Jack Worthing in Four Humors' madcap production of The Importance of Being Ernest, I can attest to her broad range in comedic roles.

Sarah Bahr's design for the ramshackle liquor store is so true to life, with abundant detailed touches, that I felt like I could walk up and buy a bottle myself—which, in fact, I did. Bahr also designed the costumes, creating a working woman look for Jessica in perfect contrast to Marley's stylish career wear, with similar contrasts between Drew's western duds and Ben's hipster apparel. Barry Browning's lighting design effectively shifts the tone for different scenes, while Sean Healey's sound design allows us to wonder if Howard's ghost might in fact be haunting Walter's liquor store. Walter's, Drew's, and Jessica's apt small town Texas drawls bring credit to dialect coach Keely Wolter.

Lone Star Spirits has an unexpected sweetness that left my heart warmed by the play's end. Along the way it regaled me—and the audience around me—with frequent and hearty laughter. This is not a play of great mystery or depth, but it does a great job of depicting the foibles of our humanity, causing us to both laugh at and cherish those qualities. Jungle Theater has given the play a great looking production that hits all its laugh notes and plays all its tender chords.

Lone Star Spirits continues at the Jungle Theater through May 7, 2017. 2951 Lyndale Avenue S., Minneapolis, MN, 55408. Tickets are $35.00 - $45.00. Seniors (60+) and students, through undergraduates, $5.00 discount. $25.00 public rush and $20.00 student rush (one ticket with ID), for unsold seats two hours before performance at box office. For tickets call 612- 822-7073 or go to www.jungletheater.com.

Written by Josh Tobiessen; Director: Sarah Rasmussen; Set and Costume Design: Sarah Bahr; Lighting Design: Barry Browning; Sound Designer: Sean Healey; Dialect Coach: Keely Wolter; Stage Manager and Properties: John Novak; Technical Director: Bill Cassidy.

Cast: Christian Bardin (Jessica), John Catron (Ben), Nate Cheeseman (Drew), Terry Hempleman (Walter), Thallis Santesteban (Marley).


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