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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Slice of Life in 1978 Texas

In Tandem's '1959 Pink Thunderbird'

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In Tandem Theatre closes its 16th season with James McLure’s 1959 Pink Thunderbird, two short plays performed back-to-back. Laundry and Bourbon (directed by Jane Flieller) is about three women living in 1978 Maynard, Texas, and Lone Star (directed by Chris Flieller) is about three men they know. Although there are many comedic moments, these are essentially serious dramas addressing ideas of lost youth and the heartbreaking need to let go of the past.

Detailed sets by Rick Rasmussen lend verisimilitude to both pieces, and Jonathan Leubner’s sound design furnishes the birds and crickets that fully immerse audiences in the setting.

The action of Laundry and Bourbon takes place on Elizabeth’s back porch on a sweltering afternoon. Lindsey L. Gagliano delivers a standout performance as Elizabeth’s friend, Hattie. Her comedic timing and emotional nuance are superb in the role of the down-to-earth confidant to a woman whose husband repeatedly walks out on her. As Elizabeth, Libby Amato delivers a wistful and similarly effective performance. Some may find it difficult to understand her character’s ongoing tolerance for a husband who so mistreats her, but Amato does wonders to render Elizabeth empathetically. Mary C. McLellan rounds out the trio, providing the somewhat caricaturized humor of a prying “back porch Baptist.”

In Lone Star, we meet Roy (Matt Koester), a Vietnam veteran and Elizabeth’s wayward husband, haunting a bar late at night. This character can also be challenging to comprehend when viewed from outside his cultural context, but Koester effectively conveys the trauma and regret underlying Roy’s violence, self-interest and misogyny. Matt Zembrowski is humorous as Cletis, the most successful of the three but an incurable dweeb. Finally, Rob Maass plays Roy’s brother Ray, the heart and soul of the show. Maass is stellar as a man forever living in his brother’s shadow, constantly subject to his verbal abuse, but also his only real friend and Roy’s obvious superior in emotional intelligence.

1959 Pink Thunderbird runs through May 18 at the Tenth Street Theatre, 628 N. 10th St. For tickets, call 414-271-1371 or visit intandemtheatre.org.