(We’ve been told here at the World of Champagne that we often “give too much away” in our theatre reviews. Rather than just giving you the who-what-where-when-how of finding a theatre production in the GF area, we like to spend time analyzing the show, how it works, what it’s really about, and whatever else comes to mind during the writing of the review. It’s a very organic process, and one we hope our readers find useful, occasionally provocative, and always entertaining. In order to address this concern, we’re going to give our readers an option: if you are just here to get the pertinent info about how to find this show and a brief intro without much detail, those sections will be colored red, like the good ol’ state of Texas. The rest of the review, in black, will be the part with spoilers and a much deeper analysis of the show. Feel free to just read the red parts, but we hope you’ll see the show and then come back for the rest. Also, please note that quotes from the show are as accurate as we could get them by scribbling them down in a notebook in a dark theatre. We’d love to hear your thoughts and anything you agreed or disagreed with in the COMMENTS section below!)
Lone Star, the short play by the late James McLure, is the newest entry in the Fire Hall Theatre’s Late Night Series and it’s an interesting little show to wrap your mind around. Set in 1970s Maynard, Texas in the backyard behind Angel’s Bar, a small juke joint, most of the action centers around the ruminations (and beer swilling) of local “good ol’ boy” Roy (Matt Hegdahl), a Vietnam veteran who is the idol of both his brother Ray (Casey Paradies) and awkward appliance store manager Cletis (Hyrum Patterson). As the evening progresses, and the empty beer bottles begin to pile up, the three men talk about many of the big ideas that represent manhood and masculinity in American culture: sexual conquest, war, and having a sweet ride, all convenient symbols that allow these men to explore different types of love and attachment.
In these three characters, McLure has created a world in which traditional expressions of masculinity have met their limits. Ray, a childish buffoon who worships his brother’s legacy of hell-raising and patriotic bravura, can’t grasp the damage that has been done to his brother in pursuit of these ideals. Cletis, newly married and playing at “boss man” by running his family’s appliance store, is playing at manhood by assembling the trappings of adulthood (a wife, a good-paying job) but he feels that something is missing: no matter how grown up he may appear on the outside, on the inside he’s the same scared boy that doesn’t know how to act with women or to really, finally, “be a man.” For both of these men, Roy is the epitome of manhood: besides his tales of women and boozing, he served in Vietnam, is married to a beautiful woman the other men find sexually desirable, and has a one-of-a-kind car that represents everything he is and has and everything the others want. It is, in fact, this car that most clearly represents not only the other men’s desires for the ultimate masculinity they see represented in Roy but also Roy’s own vacillation between nostalgia for his younger days (when he more easily inhabited the trappings of his masculinity) and his mostly unspoken ambivalence about his history and experiences, and the car itself is an interesting (though unseen) fourth character in the show.
Before we pick apart Roy and his beloved car, let’s take a little time with the two characters orbiting them. Paradies’ Ray is a cartoonish character, all heart and no brains, who just wants to have the sort of good times and fast living that his brother is known for all over Maynard. He half-listens to Roy’s stories, picking out the parts that fit with his mental image of Roy as soldier and conqueror and discarding the rest without anything resembling a serious thought. His claims to know more about women than his friend Cletis only serves to highlight both men’s assumed sexual inadequacies when compared to Roy. Though Paradies’ accent is sometimes a little too Steel Magnolias for the gritty down-on-its-luck Texas town the play is set in (I defy you not to catch just a hint of, “My colors are blush and bashful.” “Your colors are pink and pink!”), his portrayal is ultimately likeable; though his actions are sometimes questionable, it’s hard not to find yourself firmly rooted on his side. He’s the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind hanging out with and throwing down a few cold ones.
Patterson’s Cletis, on the other hand, is the kind of guy you roll your eyes at or ignore altogether. He is nerdy and off-putting, clearly an imposter playing at being a grownup. He’s married, but Ray breaks a confidence to reveal that he’s sexually inept and lacks experience. He is a manager at a local store, but got the position through his family and though it allows him to be a breadwinner for his family it does not have the same sense of masculine cache as a blue-collar job or Roy’s military service. Even his hair is an imposter: Patterson sports a ridiculous combover with a mind of its own, a stunning hair-don’t that one can only assume was achieved through the use of small hair extensions, Elmer’s School Glue, and dark magic. He is pretending at manhood, but doesn’t really understand what that means or how to achieve it. His desire for what Roy has pushes him to a desperate action (which we’ll discuss a little later) that leads to consequences and revelations for all three men.
Hegdahl’s Roy is the most nuanced of the three characters; he embodies masculinity, at least as its meaning for 1970s Maynard, but he seems to be tired of it and all that it entails. When Ray asks him to come back inside the bar he replies refuses, saying that it’s, “just a juke joint filled with a bunch of sluts and rednecks who want to break your nose.” Later, however, he regales Ray with a tale of a youthful adventure in Louisiana that is filled with easy women, fist fights, and an outrageous gun battle with the “southern Mafia.” He’s caught between that place of his youth, where all he wanted were places like Angel’s Bar and all that comes with them, and where he is now, which is much more difficult for him to define or express. What sits between these two places is his service in Vietnam; he just isn’t able to shake the realities of war. His brother has romanticized version of what war is, some vague patriotic mission, killing “gooks” for the red, white, and blue. As Roy tries to explain some of his experiences, to tell Ray how things “really are,” Ray continually makes the whole thing into a joke. This repeats later when Roy allows himself a rare moment of vulnerability, saying to his brother, “Now I got this hurt that I’m carrying around with me. Who could possibly understand my hurt?” Ray deflects this, saying “Hank Williams.” This invocation of cowboy icon Hank Williams is meant to cover over Roy’s moment of vulnerability, minimizing it through humor, and to once again reinstate the masculine status quo that Williams represents. Ray wants to help his brother save face, but he also wants to leave the expectation of masculinity, and the dynamics surrounding the two brothers and their relationship, intact.
Finally, we get to Roy’s prized automobile, the object which represents his youth and his prime. Ironically, the car is a 1959 pink Thunderbird convertible, a car that toes the line between masculinity and femininity. That this sleek and elegant car is what comes to represent Roy and the ideal of masculinity, an ideal that is a hard fit for rough-and-tumble “boys will be boys” Maynard, is telling; that it is barely holding together and is in need of significant repair is even more so. It represents his wild youth, when manhood meant womanizing and gambling and having wild adventures, and patriotism was something one lived and breathed, but now that he is older, and colored by his experiences in the war, the car is a rumbling hulk in need of constant attention and repair. When Cletis reveals to Ray that he stole the car and smashed it into a tree, he rightly fears Roy’s violent temper and convinces Ray to lie and say that he had wrecked the car. When the time comes to tell his brother, Ray begins the false confession with a bit of truth: while his brother was fighting in Vietnam, Ray slept with Roy’s wife. Roy’s reaction is big and, at times, comical: he blusters about threatening to kill Ray with a found piece of timber, questioning him on when and how often their affair had taken place. This scene, although there is a touch of real anger, is mostly played for laughs. When Ray finally does reveal that the car is destroyed, the reaction is more somber, and much more real. Adultery is one thing, but that car is a much more complicated figure in Roy’s life. In addition to his youth, it also represents the inescapable fact that he can never again go back to being that wide-eyed youth with no understanding of the world. Earlier, he says to Ray, “And nothing been the same since I come back [from Vietnam]. I can’t seem to get nothin’ started no more.” Like the pink Thunderbird, Ray is a relic of another time; he doesn’t “work right” in this new and complicated world, but he can’t seem to let go either. That he is so clearly worshipped by both his brother and Cletis, who are both oblivious to how he struggles, must be maddening and might explain his explosive and seemingly unjustified hatred for Cletis. The play ends on a relatively happy note, however, with the brothers stumbling off arm-in-arm together into the night, suggesting that perhaps the destruction of the car, the last tether holding him to his old way of living (and of constructing his masculinity), has freed him to finally move on and define himself in new and more honest ways. Their exit into darkness, echoing Roy’s earlier assertion about stars that “They might all be dead, but we’re still seeing them shine,” is ambivalent but at least holds open the possibility for change.
Technically, the show has a very stylized feel. The set, the backyard of Angel’s, feels less like an actual place and more like a set for a Vogue-esque photo shoot meant to evoke a rundown Texas honky-tonk. There is something a little too clean and precise in the mess, items placed just so to represent misuse or neglect. This is not necessarily a fault; in fact, the stylized feel of the set subtly reminds the audience that so much of what we construct as masculinity or femininity is just that: a construction. A set of cultural codes that don’t have any real meaning except the life-and-death consequences we often ascribe to them, and into which all three of the characters find themselves uncomfortably thrust. The lighting functions the same way: it’s vibrant and has an interesting play of colors, giving the characters a nuanced space on which to play out their interactions, but it doesn’t ring true for an outdoor scene in the middle of the night no matter how much neon one might assume to be illuminating the area. This dissonance with classical realism, however, is hardly the point and shouldn’t trouble you for long. Spend more time with the characters and how they represent all that is restrictive and confining within our normative constructions of gender, and you’ll be on your way to a much deeper sense of satisfaction.
Lone Star is the first production of the Flying Turtles Theatre Company and is presented in association with the Fire Hall Theatre and the Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre. As one might assume with the Late Night Series, it is an “adults only” production that plays June 13& 14 and 20 & 21 at 9:30 pm. Doors open at 9 pm and tickets, which cost $8, are available only at the door. At one point, Roy says, “When you’re trying to come back to a place, you want it to be how it is in your mind, not how it really is.” This sense of broken-hearted nostalgia informs the entire show but never pulls it down into cheap sentimentality. Be sure to catch this rough gem of a show before it’s gone.
(This article doesn’t really have anything to do with the play, but as I was searching for images and thinking about masculinity and the issues associated with it, I stumbled across it and I found it interesting. Perhaps you will too.)
Tags: adultery, Casey Paradies, cowboy, cowboys, Fire Hall Theater, Fire Hall Theatre, Firehall Theater, Firehall Theatre, Flying Turtle Theatre, honky tonk, Hyrum Patterson, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, Late Night Series, late night theatre, Lone Star, Lone Star Beer, Lonestar, lover, manhood, Marlboro Man, masculine, masculinity, Matt Hegdahl, real man, real men, soldier, Texas, The End of Men, Vietnam, what makes a man