By: Darryl Reilly
An offstage 1959 pink Thunderbird convertible is an evocative motif in the late Southern playwright James McLure’s ravishing Americana, Lone Star. With shades of Chekov and The Best Years of Our Lives, Mr.McLure’s one-act play beautifully depicts the disaffected existence of a Vietnam War veteran in the early 1970’s through rich vernacular-laden dialogue, three engaging Texas small-town quirky male characters and a compelling casual plot. “Well, at least I ain’t in Oklahoma!” is the rousing curtain line. The promising McLure achieved a moderate level of theatrical prominence in the 1970’s with one-act plays including this one and Laundry and Bourbon. Lone Star was first performed Off-Broadway with McLure’s Pvt. Wars in 1979 and ran for 69 performances. He died of cancer in 2011 at the age of 59.
“It’s just a juke joint with a lot of sluts and rednecks who want to break your nose for you” is how Angel’s bar in Maynard, Texas, is described on a Saturday morning at 1:00 AM in its backyard by the Vietnam War veteran Roy who imbibes cans of Lone Star beer. He is joined by his younger dim-witted mechanic brother Ray. A football injury made him ineligible to serve in Vietnam. Their mother is senile, and their father isn’t very bright; “He named me Roy and you Ray!” Intruding on the siblings is Cletis, he runs his father’s appliance store and got out of the draft for that. He is a nerdy, former high school classmate of Roy’s who has always idolized him but whom Roy can’t stand. Lone Star’s plot is a series of personal upheavals that arise from the interactions of the three men.
Since 2017, the New York City-based theater company Ruth Stage has presented several successful Off-Broadway incarnations of Lone Star with differing casts and directors; a constant has been Matt de Rogatis’ vivid and now seasoned performance as Roy. Wearing an American flag headband, weathered jeans and a cut-off fatigue shirt, exhibiting his muscular and tatted physique, the charismatic Mr. de Rogatis defiantly swaggers and drunkenly stumbles with electrifying effect. de Rogatis’ commanding physicality is matched by his expressively melodious and twangy tenor voice which imparts numerous poignant and comic declarations, as well as a chilling recitation of battlefield atrocities Roy witnessed. de Rogatis is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking during his powerhouse turn. “I love my wife, my country and my car,” declares de Rogatis with aching sincerity.
Clad in overalls, the lithe and gregarious Dan Amboyer is winning as Ray. Emoting in a Texas drawl and emitting denseness, Mr. Amboyer offers an ingratiating characterization. Amboyer and de Rogatis’ duet of Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart” is priceless. The lean, wiry, animated, and vocally distinctive Ryan McCartan is a dynamic foil as Cletis. The hyper Mr. McCartan smoothly veers from being a sad sack who couldn’t find his wife’s vagina on their wedding night, to a malevolent conniver who instigates dark twists and turns.
This production of Lone Star is notable because with the permission of the McLure estate, it is now being given an expanded adaptation. Roy’s unseen wife Elizabeth appeared in Laundry and Bourbon. An expositional monologue of hers from that work now starts off the show. Radiant and alluring Ana Isabelle appears with a guitar and tenderly opines about Roy, his problems and their life before and after his military service. The sunny Ms. Isabelle superbly sings Linda Ronstadt’s “Long Long Time,” and at times speaks in Spanish. Isabelle reappears for a concluding touching moment with Roy.
Another addition to the presentation is projection designer Tomas Correa’s artful historical imagery, news footage of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Walter Cronkite are interspersed with war footage, accompanied by a soundtrack of familiar rock songs. These sequences bookend the show and could provide informative background material to younger audience members. Mr. Correa also renders Legacy Comix’s graphic novel-style picturization of events from the narrative. Correa’s sound design finely realizes the music and effects.
Director Joe Rosario achievements are manifold. The energetic cast’s performances are riveting, his physical staging is sharply focused, and the production has picturesque scope. Matthew Imhoff’s scenic design is an atmospheric and accurate recreation of a rowdy bar’s exterior area. Lighting designer Christian Specht’s artistry includes striking crimson hues symbolizing Roy’s post-traumatic stress disorder, and the ceiling set with small bulbs suggesting the constellation. The uncredited authentic costume design perfectly visualizes the characters with down-home splendor.
The individual effectiveness of this production’s added presentational embellishments to the play’s original text are arguable; however, this version of Lone Star reclaims James McLure’s glorious dramatic writing and showcases its gutsy actors.
Lone Star (through December 23rd, 2023)
Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit www.ruthstage.org
Running time: one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission