BWW Reviews: THE FIRST CHURCH OF TEXACO - An Entertaining, Comedic Parable

A.D. Players is producing the Houston Premiere of Andrew William Librizzi's romantic comedy THE FIRST CHURCH OF TEXACO. The play was originally written for the Desert Bloom Theatre in Dallas, which was founded by Andrew William Librizzi. The story, based on a germ of truth from Andrew William Librizzi's own life, introduces audiences to Stanley Presley, a CEO who relocates his headquarters to an abandoned Texaco station on the outskirts of Blessing, Texas. He hires the local librarian, Alice, as his secretary. Due to small town gossip and crossed telephone lines, Alice accidently "ordains" Stanton Presley as pastor of the First Church of Texaco. In the midst of the confusion, a homeless teenager from California, named Emmi, stumbles into the Texaco, looking for hope and maybe even salvation.

Direction by Jennifer Dean keeps this Texas style "Beauty and the Beast" parable clipping brightly along during the first act, which is pleasantly bubbly and tender. In the second act, the writing and direction together slow the pace of the sprightly comedy. The writing, especially, becomes filled with redundant moments and removes every ounce of subtly from the themes and messages beautifully constructed and pristinely directed in the first act. While, as a whole, THE FIRST CHURCH OF TEXACO is pleasant, I couldn't help but feel that the second act could be pared down some to keep the momentum rocking forward.

As Stanley Presley, Craig Griffin plays the perfect business oriented CEO stereotype and ensures the character follows a believable arc of inspiring transformation. At the opening, he expertly lacks in social skills and rides on a very high horse. The man is entirely secularized and wholly removed from religion as well, which adds another interesting layer to his transformation from cold, unlovable, beastly CEO stereotype to warm, kind, compassionate, and religious human.

Christy Watkins' Alice is the pristine Texas born and raised woman that the audience expects and cherishes throughout the show. She is brimming with Texan courtesy and is a perfect caricature of the Texas brand of southern hospitality. She is charming, sassy, witty, and strong. Likewise, she employs impressive comedic timing to elicit well-earned hearty guffaws from the audience.

Misguided and lost teenage Emmi, played by Bethany Eggleston, has lived a rough life of homelessness, abandonment, and even prostitution. The last of which is only hinted at, so parents can feel comfortable bringing younger children. They most likely won't understand the more mature themes of what is implied about her life. Bethany Eggleston makes Emmi's search for salvation tangible and heartbreaking, bringing out the humanity in Stanley Presley.

Blake Weir does fantastic and skillful work as the villainous Brad, whose secretive ambitions and trickster games set Stanley Presley's new headquarters up for failure. He also has a clear understanding of comedic timing and elicits voluminous laughter from the audience.

Scenic Design by Mark A. Lewis is astounding. The A.D. Players' stage is immaculately transformed into a Texaco garage, providing an adroitly truthful stage for the actors to play on. Set Design has consistently been one of my favorite elements at an A.D. Players show, and this set may be one of their best yet.

Lighting Design by Andrew Vance is simplistic but gorgeous, especially when used to show the passing of time outside the windows. The performance space is mostly bathed in warm ambers with support from lighting elements that are actually found in a mechanic's garage, keeping the actors in realistic lighting.

Patty Tuel Bailey's Costume Design compliments the small town Texas in 1987 setting, especially in regards to the outfit and wig worn by Christy Watkins. Bethany Eggleston's costume and purple wig is more in tune with the post-grunge goth look of the mid to late 90s than the heavily black and white, leather clothing, oversized accessories, and stringy black hair of the 80s goth.

Sound Design by Hannah Smith and Katharine Hatcher's Property Design each add another layer of quality realism to the show, doing everything they need to do by enhancing the performance and not interfering with the production.

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David Clarke David Clarke has had a lifelong love and passion for the performing arts, and has been writing about theatre both locally and nationally for years. He joined running their Houston site in early 2012 and began writing as the site's official theatre recording critic in June of 2013.

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