January 28, 2019 Radomir Vojtech Luza

Review of Group Repertory Theatre’s Production of One-Acts LAUNDRY AND BOURBON and LONE STAR by James McLure

If you are interested in two one-act plays that intertwine through time and place, run do not walk to The Group Repertory Theatre’s production of
James McLure’s “Laundry and Bourbon” and “Lone Star” at The Lonny Chapman Theatre in The North Hollywood Arts District through March 3rd.
These are the stories of three women and three men who come together separately on a hot day in Maynard, Texas in the early 1970’s for tales of
love, marriage, desperation, betrayal and, ultimately, redemption.
“Lone Star” completes what “Laundry and Bourbon” begins with grace, aplomb and passion.
These are six authentically human characters presented by the Louisiana-born and Jesuit-educated playwright as nothing less than strong, funny, but, undoubtedly, vulnerable and wounded
people.

The language flows like the Amazon and builds like a tsunami, leaving us, the audience, hanging between a laugh and a tear wondering weather the playwright meant these two one-acts as dramas
or comedies.
On the Opening Night that this critic saw the production, McLure’s words were beacons in the night, neon signs on a particularly foggy evening.
McLure, who received a BFA degree from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, before moving to New York City in 1975, where he was a member of The Lion Theatre Company,
brays and prays here.  Stops and pops.  But never leaves us, the audience, wondering where the characters are coming from.
The writing is clear, definite and concise.  No audience member should doubt the clear and transparent meaning, direction and flow of the two plays as they climb each other’s rooftops barefoot.
Where “Laundry and Bourbon” is about friends, “Lone Star” concerns family.
When “Lone Star” is dark, “Laundry and Bourbon” is light and electric.
While “Laundry and Bourbon” is a ruby, “Lone Star” is a pearl.
Both valuable, important and expressive.
Director Barbara Brownell allows the actors the space and time to be themselves while tightening the dialogue and movement.
She does not so much helm this thespian symphony as conduct it.
Brownell personifies the characters beyond the playwright’s language and molds the evening into her own life lesson on adulthood and its responsibilities and consequences.
The onetime Broadway actress uses her acting knowledge and ability to get the very best from each actor, as all six are at the top of their games, hitting home run after home run out of the park.
Brownell, who is making her GRT directorial debut, has assembled a gifted cast that comprehends the truth and pain in McLure’s powerful, heartfelt and soulful words.
Stand-outs in “Laundry and Bourbon” include:
Kristin Towers-Rowles (Hattie) who gives a convincing and hilarious turn.
This comedic actress tackles both drama and humor with intensity, precision and great faith. The one-act revolves around her like a band-aid a finger.
Without the AMDA- (New York City) trained actor/director, whose grandmother is MGM star Kathryn Grayson, “Laundry and Bourbon” loses its shape, energy and color.
But running away with the play is Savannah Schoenecker (Elizabeth) whose timing, reactions to other actors and external emotions fashion a character etched in strength and
raised in understanding and compassion.
For if there is one feeling, or emotion, the “Broadway World”- nominated lead actress for The GRT’s 2018 “Romeo and Juliet” personifies, it is mature love.
This is the third recent play, if “Carol Christmas” is included, the Scenie Award-Winner for “Patterns” at Theater 40, has been cast in at the GRT.
And what a difference it makes to theatre company and audience alike.
Stand-outs in “Lone Star” are:
Nick Paonessa (Roy) whose stage presence and larger-than-life stature on the boards highlight this one-act.
The graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in theatre, has performed on television in “Modern Family,” “CSI,” “Law and Order,” HBO’s “UNSCRIPTED” and films such as “Leather
heads.”
The screen work has prepared the Sunday Company writer/performer at The Groundlings for a role in which he is North, South, East and West as a Vietnam veteran who finds his hometown
“different” upon his return, and who is having a difficult time “getting things started.”
Paonessa deserves a world of credit for taking on this monster of a role and for accomplishing it with an almost mad frenzy, zest, fervor and fever.
His is a wild, but also rare and unique gift.
But stealing the show is R.J. DeBard (Ray) as Roy’s younger brother.
In this, his first performance at the GRT, the L.A. Robbie-winning Best Actor for Denny in Keith Huffs’ “A Steady Rain” displays a modesty, humility and
aptitude for mind-bending and side-splitting comedy as well as serious drama.
This bipolar brilliance marks one of the most complete, compelling and moving characterizations ever seen on stage at the GRT.
Together with Paonessa, the two make for a tight, friendly, but competetive pair.
One no more “crazy” than the other, we, the audience, is forever lost in the magnetism, mayhem, affection and comedic charm the duo sparks.
DeBard’s ability to internalize his personal conflicts and pain, and his brutally realistic physical work make for a total actor
unafraid of the discipline, rejection and suffering accompanying this bold and courageous portrayal.
This critic hopes to see both Schoenecker and DeBard on the stages of North Hollywood and Los Angeles again very soon.
Also furthering the message of the two plays are the innovative set design of Chris Winfield, the lighting design of J. Kent Inasy, the sound design of Steve Shaw and the colorful costume design of
Angela M. Eads.
All in all, “Laundry and Bourbon” and “Lone Star” succeed because of their theatrical teamwork, not despite it.
Once presented as a dual production dubbed “1959 Pink Thunderbird” at the McCarter Theatre in 1980, these two one-acts demonstrate why smart, character-driven, witty theatre still attracts
audiences.
Forty years after the two plays first graced Off-Broadway stages, their immediacy has not run its course.
After all, two of the girls in “Laundry and Bourbon” belong to two of the boys in “Lone Star,” and McLure, that wisest of playwrights,
does not allow us up for air until we understand exactly why.
The choice of these two one-acts and, more importantly, their brilliant execution, prove that all is well on Burbank Boulevard in this, the starting gate of the 45th Anniversary Season.
Co-Artistic Directors Larry Eisenberg and Winfield have once more shown why the GRT has grown from a theatre ensemble producing “community theatre fare” to one presenting
substantive and salient work.
This soul spill has placed the GRT in the upper echelon of theatre companies in Los Angeles, and, more importantly, made for a richer and more vibrant
artistic and theatrical climate and environment for company members and audiences alike to thrive.
God must be among the stars sparkling over Texas tonight.
Kudos to all involved.
By Radomir Vojtech Luza
Theatre, Film and Book Critic
Showtimes:
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM
Sundays at 2:00 PM
Talk-back after Matinee on February 10th.
Tickets:
General Admission: $25/Students and Seniors with ID: $20/Groups 10+: $15
Information/Reservation: (818) 763-5990
WHERE: The Lonny Chapman Theatre,
10900 Burbank Boulevard,
North Hollywood, CA 91601

Get in touch Radomir!