Texas two step: a duo of plays set in the Lone Star State

Photo by Michael Cummo

A home-grown cast brings to life some colorful characters from another world in Taffy McCarthy’s latest theater production. Two one-act plays, Lone Star and Laundry and Bourbon by James McClure, present a slice of life in a small town in Texas in the 1970s. The two short pieces, full of both humor and pathos, are great character studies, and Ms. McCarthy excels as a director in presenting characters who are both human and, like their home state, a bit larger than life.

In Laundry and Bourbon, we get acquainted with three housewives who have known each other since high school. Elizabeth is a quiet dreamer, living in the past while making her peace with the not-so-perfect reality of her marriage. Hattie is a sassy and outspoken firecracker — mother to a gang of little terrors — whose energy and humor helps her balance marriage, motherhood, and a little social climbing. Amy Lee is a self-righteous do-gooder whose jealousy and contempt of Hattie makes for some vicious backbiting between the two.

Through the women, we get to know their respective mates and learn a little about the dynamics that brought each couple together. Their individual stories have some very poignant moments amidst the laughs.

In the second one-act, Lone Star, we meet the women’s counterparts: restless Vietnam vet Roy, his worshipful younger brother Ray, and nerdy Cletis, who is oddly out of place in this world of rough and tumble, hard-drinking Texans. After hearing the women talk about their mates, it’s eye opening to be introduced to the men themselves. The introduction of the individual characters through two separate pieces works makes for an interesting and effective device. In Lone Star, more is revealed about the men and the women, as well as life in the small town.

Written in the 1970s, the two plays rely on strong characterizations and, luckily, Ms. McCarthy has gathered together a wonderful cast for her latest project. Though many Vineyarders will be familiar with Chelsea McCarthy, who plays Hattie, from her numerous appearances on Vineyard stages, the other five actors have less experience. Yet, they all deliver dynamic performances.

Ms. McCarthy previously directed Becky Williams (Elizabeth) and Phil Kane (Roy) in other shows. However, the rest of the cast, she discovered in other ways. Sara Ahren (Amy Lee) is making her acting debut, but Ms. McCarthy was familiar with her work as a dancer and recognized her theatricality. Alex Roan (Cletis), one of the younger members of the cast, is making his first appearance in community theater. He does a wonderful job with his alienated character. Chris Lyons has not acted in 20 years. It’s a pleasure to witness this talented actor’s return to the stage.

“I love finding people who don’t normally do theater,” says Ms. McCarthy. “Discovering this dormant talent. They work themselves to death and then create this wonderful thing.” Of her current cast, she says, “they’re really the stars in the crown of the whole thing.”

Ms. McCarthy should have a good nose for talent. She has years of theater experience under her belt, both here, in her hometown of Pittsburgh, and elsewhere. Ms. McCarthy has worked as an actor and director in numerous productions with Island Theater Workshop and the The Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse. She has also written, directed, and starred in a number of one-woman shows which have been produced in venues throughout the country, including Boston and New York. Ms. McCarthy is also a talented singer who performs at venues around the Vineyard.

In the last few years, Ms. McCarthy has taken the initiative to produce some of her favorite material on her own. Her most recent undertaking was a silent film-style one-act by A.A. Milne. Hopefully, this energetic, talented director/performer will bring more interesting, fun, and thought-provoking theater to local audiences, and continue to take advantage of the impressive pool of talent to be found on the Vineyard.

Five Moon Theatre Inc. Presents two one acts, Laundry and Bourbon and Lone Star by James McLure. Directed by Taffy McCarthy. Nov. 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15. All shows at 7:30 pm at the Katharine Cornell Theatre. Tickets $15 at the door.