Castaways Repertory Theatre is serving up some hearty fare, part of which was offered up previously to significant acclaim. "Laundry and Bourbon" and "Lone Star," a bookend pair of one-act plays by James McClure, are hot and fresh and mighty good.
The Woodbridge troupe staged "Laundry and Bourbon" at the NVTA One-Act Play Festival two years ago and swept all the top awards, including best production, a tie for best actress for its two leads, Tracy Lynn Mullen and Katy Helper, best supporting actress for Deb Crawford, and best director for Glynn Cosker. (Full disclosure: I was one of the judges.)
Now the talented trio and the director are back together. Time has not dimmed the luster of their work on this play, a wildly funny comedy with serious undertones. The two plays, sometimes lumped together under the single title "1959 Pink Thunderbird," are slice-of-life character studies, raucous and sometimes profane.
Situated in a small Texas town in the early 1970s, the plays explore the meanings of freedom and security from two perspectives: female in "Laundry and Bourbon" and male in "Lone Star." Perhaps hoping lighting will strike twice, Castaways will perform "Lone Star" at this year's One-Act Play Festival in June.
In "Laundry and Bourbon," Elizabeth (Mullen) and Hattie (Helper) talk and down their highballs on a porch while folding laundry over the course of a long, sweltering afternoon.
In between the laughs, Elizabeth seems tense, her attention wandering as she awaits the return of Roy, her hard-drinking, troubled husband, from an extended binge. The sight she longs for, Roy's prized 1959 pink Thunderbird coming down the country road, represents security and comfort. Elizabeth and Hattie are visited by the obnoxious Amy Lee (Crawford), who arrives bearing tales of Roy's infidelities in town. Hattie, meanwhile, is seeking freedom from her three wild children, though they still manage to intrude on the liquor and laughs via the phone.
"Lone Star" shifts the scene to late night behind a small bar, where macho Roy (Robert Perkins), who returned from Vietnam resentful and unfocused, is guzzling Lone Star beer. Blaming the war for his inability to find meaning in his life, Roy badgers his dimwitted, good-natured brother Ray (Tom Ziemba). Eventually, Amy Lee's feckless husband, Cletus (Kevin K. Kirby), comes by, much to Roy's annoyance.
Roy loves his old Thunderbird, especially how it made him a big man with the ladies. His identity is wrapped up in the machine, tying him to the past and blinding him to possibilities of the present. But the fate of his car may soon alter his own future.
The three very talented actresses seamlessly weave together broad comedy and subtle pathos, sometimes within the confines of the same sentence, a remarkable achievement. They are excruciatingly funny despite the fact that there are few standard setup-and-punch-line jokes in the play. They earn the constant laughter through attitude and comic timing honed to the millisecond by Cosker. All three brilliantly create fully dimensional characters within moments of stepping onstage, so their rapport and the humor it creates flows with authentic-seeming abandon. They are a joy to watch.
The men are less successful, primarily because of Perkins's one-dimensional performance as Roy. The guys get laughs, lots of them. But Perkins, whose attempt at a southwestern twang makes him sound more like an old Kentucky colonel than a young Texas hell-raiser, never conveys the sense of his character's wildness or inner fury. He's not the bad boy stud the ladies describe. Even when Roy is confronted with the worst possible betrayal, Perkins evinces not the slightest sense of menace.
The women are ultimately more satisfying to watch. Three dimensions always trump one. Still, these two plays add up to one enjoyable evening of theater.
"Laundry and Bourbon" and "Lone Star" conclude this weekend, performed by Castaways Repertory Theatre at Ferlazzo Auditorium in the A.J. Ferlazzo Building, 15941 Donald Curtis Dr., Woodbridge. Performances on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. For information or tickets, call 703-508-5418 or go to www.castawaystheatre.org. "Lone Star" will also be performed at the NVTA One-Act Play Festival, which begins June 18 at the Reston Community Center. For more information, visit www.nvtaweb.org.