We hear that we live in divided times, with one of those divides being between urban and rural. The clefts between interest groups are merely personal psychology writ large, though. The “micro” dramas of our personal lives project into “macro” conflicts in our society.
Such is the donnée of playwright Josh Tobiessen’s short comedy “Lone Star Spirits.” Local star director Sarah Rasmussen helms the production with a light touch, freeing her small, talented cast to find the humor and irony in the way we live now.
It’s said that you can’t go home again, because home has changed and so have you. But this production reminds us insofar as “home” is where we found identity, then home never leaves.
In her opening-night introduction, Rasmussen commented directly about our “screen time” lives and our need to congregate with others. Those television and phone and computer screens offer us mediated experiences, but the theater is live. This production is a celebration.
The cast chews the scenery in a lively manner. Nate Cheeseman portrays Drew, a football star who never left his rural Texas hometown and licks his wounded pride for consolation. He visits shopkeeper Walter (Terry Hempleman) as their town gradually fades—the memory of which they seek to keep alive by remembering better times.
Those living in the past meet a couple forging toward the urbane, white-collar future represented by Austin, Texas, where the corporate sponsors for South By Southwest seem to never end. Walter’s daughter Marley (Thallis Santesteban) has brought her metrosexual fiancé Ben (John Catron, the Minneapolis theater community’s Orson Welles) home, but not merely for a family visit.
While Drew and Ben face off to see which form of masculinity will survive American modernity, Marley reunites with her frenemy Jessica (a florid Christian Bardin), who like Drew never left town and has a lurking feeling that her hopes are fading as well.
The juxtaposed cowboy townies and citified Yankees match the popular narrative about the 2016 election, where urban and rural voters supported their tribunes (Clinton and Trump, respectively) in lockstep.
As always, the reality is both simpler and more complex. The plot here is less important than the sweet spot for comedic timing where this cast lives. For me, Tobiessen’s accomplishment is to create a comedy that both exemplifies and satirizes the socially-conscious urban liberal milieu we Minneapolites congratulate ourselves about (to our detriment, I think).
If you can see the humor in paying extra for worn “vintage” clothing and furniture, you’ll laugh out loud at “Lone Star Spirits.”
What I’ve not shared yet is that these themes are in service of fun. Set design from Sarah Bahr finds a kitschy timelessness that lends itself to slapstick but also reminds us that dinosaurs roam amongst us (i.e. Walter, the shopkeeper searching for ghosts in a ghost town).
One of the strong elements of this production is Barry Browning’s lighting design, which establishes the comedy as temporally compact. The play fulfills Aristotle’s unities by covering just under 24 hours, with the action occurring in one place, and stemming from the inherent conflict in Marley’s return home.
Another notable element: The play only runs 80 or so minutes. Get the audience in, make them laugh and cry, and get them out. Except there is more laughing than crying here, particularly in a delightful climax that riffs on the “spirits” portion of the play’s title.
The verve of opening night at the Jungle felt palpable, and the show was followed by free food and Surly Brewing Co. craft beers. Rasmussen and cast and crew presided over festivities with great aplomb, personifying the goal to “break down barriers” that makes the Jungle Theater so valuable.
But the important part of understanding other people, and the Other even, is the openness to try to understand someone else’s experience. With laughs and gags and one-liners, this production of “Lone Star Spirits” bridges the gap for those of us perennially surprised at the unfamiliar notions of our friends and neighbors.
You don’t have to be from a dying small town to know what it’s like to find that you can’t go home again. Home is where the heart is—but it’s also why we are who we are.
“Lone Star Spirits” contains adult language. The play runs through May 7 at the Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Ave. S. Call the box office at 612-822-7063 or visit www.jungletheater.com for tickets.
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