Joe Rosario’s staging of James McLure’s dark comedy mines the pathos over the comedy.
By: Patrick Christiano
December 18, 2023: James McLure’s dark comedy Lone Star, a tale about Roy, a Vietnam veteran struggling with PTSD, unfolds in the back yard of a Texas bar where Roy (Matt de Rogatis), a macho type, is hanging out with his dim-witted younger brother, Ray (Dan Amboyer). Shooting-the-breeze and reminiscing about better times, Roy is attempting to make sense out of the changes to his rural life and the trauma he endured during two years in Vietnam. He wants life to be like it once was.
When the play debuted on Broadway in 1979, it played a double bill with Pvt. Wars, and McLure was hailed as a new comic voice of the theater. Unfortunately, the play has not aged well, and the ill-conceived Ruth Stage production directed by Joe Rosario with an emphasis on pathos does not serve the playwright’s original intentions.
Ruth Stage has been given permission from McLure’s estate to use material from Laundry and Bourbon, another comedy by McLure, which introduces us to the character of Roy’s long suffering wife Elizabeth (Ana Isabelle). The material appears here as a sort of prologue to the play and a tag-on at the end.
When the evening begins Elizabeth is alone on stage strumming a guitar and singing lovely songs. And she talks and talks and talks about Roy and her marriage and about love and romance and about Roy’s prized possession, a pink Cadillac. Her dialogue appears to be cobbled together from Laundry and Bourbon in-an-effort to give a background story to what will follow, and to let the audience know that Elizabeth is pregnant; however, the earnest actor, Ana Isabelle, who has a sweet endearing quality and a charming singing voice, is not sure what she is doing or why. Is this a monologue, which would put her alone on stage talking to herself, or is it a dialogue, which would put her on stage talking to the audience?
A long-projected film montage is next with footage of bombs falling on rice paddies interspersed with pictures circa the Vietnam era. It is a disjointed start, an odd juxtaposition, to what follows.
Jump to Roy and Ray chugging some brews in the back yard of Angel’s bar. The Texas good ole boys are behaving like adolescents with raunchy crude humor. After they have established their long-held bond, Cletis, (Ryan McCartan) a timid friend, who has always harbored a desire to be cool like Roy, joins them. Roy and Ray have been making fun of him, and Ray claims the recently married Cletis cannot find his wife’s vagina.
The actors are skilled with different techniques, so what we get feels imposed rather than lived in. You can see the seams and feel them acting.
Matt de Rogatis plays Roy as a brooding belligerent drunk, tormented by what happened to him in Vietnam. His anguish grows in intensity with explosive actions that seem to come from nowhere. Impressive, but not really affecting. There is little attempt to play the cover, except when he is engaging in some crude jokes with his brother, Ray. Amboyer mines Ray’s slowness for humor, in these moments the actors work well together, but most of the time they act alone. And then there is Ryan McCartan as Cletis, the third wheel, who finds some funny moments, in a sitcom kind of way, as the anxious Cletis.
The evening feels calculated to expose the underbelly of the beast. There is no moment of redemption that justifies the ending.
410 West 42nd Street
Through December 23, 2023
Photography: Miles Skalli