BWW Review: TENNESSEE PLAYBOY at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre
Preston Lane's backwoods comedy "Tennessee Playboy" is based on the much more serious 1907 Irish play "Playboy Of The Western World." Lane's play follows the plot of the earlier version closely, but to significantly different effect at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre until the Ides of April.
John Synge's original three-act play had significant overtones to the Irish independence movement. When it first opened, there were riots in the streets. It is mainly remembered for its use of language. Preston Lane's comedy version moves the action from an Irish public house to a backwoods diner in eastern Tennessee surrounded by a quartet of the most needy, seedy, and man-hungry rural women imaginable.
A man named Chuck Macadie (Connor Eastman) stumbles one late evening into a roadside dinner operated by moonshine swigging Mitch Dunbar (Tim Ahlenius) and his virginal, Christian, pretty, and ripening young daughter Pearlene (Casey Jane). Chuck is dirty and hungry. It slowly comes out that Chuck is on the run. He has defended himself from an attack by his abusive father and murdered the man with a frying pan.
For some unexplainable reason, Mitch is encouraged by this tale of wanton murder to hire this guy and trust him with his (just coming into the full bloom of womanhood) daughter and while sallying forth with the neighborhood preacher Rev. Stykes (Tony Beasley) to inspect a local illegal still. Hmmm! Nothing wrong with that so far.
Pearlene is understandably attracted to this colossus of a man. She feeds him from a practical stove on the set. She offers to wash his filthy clothes and provides two aprons so that he may cover himself. Chuck agrees and dons the aprons - one in front and one in back. The predictable predictably takes place. Pearlene's bloom opens.
Meanwhile, the diner is visited by the Widow Quince (Nicole Marie Green). The good widow has just buried her third husband and would love to add to her collection. Mrs. Quince wears a beehive hairdo reminiscent of Marge Simpson and slacks so tight that one imagines the coin in her pocket must be heads up. Additional similarly challenged women in heat eventually show up sensing a good time might be had by all.
I won't spoil the second act for you except to suggest Andy Griffith's Mayberry represents the epitome of sophistication compared to this diner in the woods. "Tennessee Playboy" (the script) is pretty funny, if a little cornpone.
The difficulty with this handsomely mounted production from Karen Paisley and Elizabeth Bowman is that most of the cast has been allowed to play the script too straight. They are not outlandish enough. Each has the opportunity to create a cartoon. Only the Widow Quince grabs onto the opportunity with both hands. Almost as effective is Stanley Kincade (R. H. Wilhoit). Stanley sees the opportunity, but only holds on with one hand.
Actors doing comedy dialects should always be conscious that jokes may be missed if the words are delivered too quickly. Characters should always jump on cues and play with the lines. Cornpone comedy dialog must often wait for the laugh to happen and the actors might have to cue the audience that it is their turn. The window in the restroom routine reminds one of the many doorways in Neil Schaffner's classic country comedy "Natalie Needs A Nightie." These are all funny bits that can be more fully exploited.
"Tennessee Playboy" continues at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre through April 15. Tickets are available on the www.metkc.org website or by telephone at 816-569-3226.
Photo provided courtesy of Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre - Bob Paisley