BWW Review: SHOTS OF WHISKEY, AND HARD LESSONS LINGER ON THE PALATE IN THIS HUMOROUS BUT INSIGHTFUL GHOST STORY WITH LONE STAR SPIRITS at FreeFall Theatre
Imagine for a minute going home... moving away, and coming back to the town you once knew. The town you grew up in, fell in and out of love, and yet something still calls you back home. This ideal and the centralized themes that lessons from our past will continue to haunt our futures is the heart of the story found deep within the roots of Josh Tobiessen's Lone Star Spirits on stage at freeFall Theatre after its transfer from the Hippodrome in Gainsville. Josh Tobiessen's script is smart, edgy and full of laughs and is a thrilling comedy keeping you tuned in from the first beer to the last shot of whiskey. Director Stephanie Lynge and the entire producing team at the Hippodrome have put together a top notch show that is so fine-tuned you feel just as much a part of this small town as the characters at its center. Something very intriguing about this story is the dialogue and the flow in which its delivered. I think Director Stephanie Lynge said it best in her Director's Notes by saying, "When you read the script, you can hear the pattern of the dialogue and how it trips along, builds to a joke, and then tops it again with another. And each individual character has their own voice, even in the writing. You can hear the dry humor of Jessica and the stumbling nature of Walter just from reading off the page. A truly gifted comedic writer like Mr. Tobiessen is a gift to a director and the actors as well, guiding us into the world he has created." This is just one very true testament of what makes this show great.
At the top of the show we see the lights come up on a liquor store in a small town in Texas and in walks the afformidable jock archtype Drew played exceptionally well by Haulston Mann. Drew is the character that is over the top obnoxious but can often be seen as misunderstood. He drinks beer and flexes his musles all the while bringing up his Championship Football game of years past. Imagine a cross between Marc Wahlberg and Christian Bale and you'll get the gist of the type of character archtype portrayed here. Haulston is exceptional in every form of the word, from his comedic timing to the down right obnoxious appeal to his character. He's every man's worst nightmare and every ladies dream and he knows it all to well. His spot on delivery is captivating and leaves you hanging on every single solitary nuance and obnoxious fortitude seething from his characters every manuerism and every word. Enter Walter the store owner played by Bryan Mercer. Donning a necktie;unusual from his normal attire he works on opening the store for the days operations while participating in back and forth banter with Drew. Walter is a bumbling small town man who after a divorce hasn't seen his daughter since she moved to Dallas. You see the shakiness in his gait and hear the uncertainty of the future in his voice. Bryan is wonderful as Walter and should be commended for his delivery of a father just trying to make ends meet. The most intriguing thing about his performance is the secret he is hiding just below the surface and throughout the first few minutes you're left trying to put the pieces together.
Jessica played by Brooke Tyler Benson is the one girl in the small town who after the "It" girls leaves she takes what she wants and makes it hers. Dry-humor filled dialogue and a sarcastic wit to boot makes for a stellar performance. Dressed in a mini-skirt and heels she is like every character in Bridesmaids rolled into one. Imagine if Kristin Wig from Bridesmaids and Mila Kunis from Bad Moms combined their characters you would find Jessica as the almost lovechild of this combination. She comes into Walter's store looking for milk or juice and when none can be found she purchases Margarita Mix for her son's dinner refreshment. She is the bad girl who is oh so good and should be commended for her top notch performance. As the antics continue in walks Ben and Marley a newly engaged couple in from Dallas, and Marley being Walter's daughter has some business which brings her back to town. Ben is seen as this almost hipster like character who mainly would be seen in the tech market of Silicon Valley and is running a startup that has all of their money tied up. His almost Metro-sexual vibe is intriguing and makes you wonder if there is something lurking deeper below the surface. Dressed in a Suede jacket and bright colored pants his city-boy attire doesn't fare well with the locals. Niall McGinty is in his element with this role, and should be lauded here. Imagine Cillian Murphy mixed with early Keanu Reeves and you get the picture. Marissa Toogood is wonderful as Marley, Walter's daughter. She is back in town for business with her father. You see in the divorce her Mother actually is the sole owner of the store. Marley is in town to have the purchase order of the store signed over, in hopes to use the money to purchase her dream home. Marissa is one point in every aspect of her performance. Imagine Reese Witherspoon's character in Sweet Home Alabama. Every moment between her and Ben, and the jarring back and forth between her and Drew (her ex) is exceptional. When Drew plants a kiss on her behind Ben's back you almost sense the searing dislike between them.A comedic moment between Drew and Ben results in not one but two gunshots to the foot and the moments following are hilarious from the blood to the limping, you truly feel the discord brewing between the two men. Every thing is bigger in Texas, and these characters are larger than life which is why its so genuine and so easy to relate to their plight, and fall in love with them at every turn.
In the corner of the store on a shelf below a picture on the wall is a Hat, and a Book belonging to Henry the town founder. Henry is said to still haunt the aisles of the store and often lend himself to life's harder lessons. The unlikely quintet forms a circle around the table to conduct a seance to talk to Henry. Through special effects the bottles on the shelves shake and the lights flicker adding from some wonderful visuals. They drink shots with Henry to the tune of a poem Marley wrote as a little girl. This is a touching moment bringing everyone together. Escalating moments bring a shocking turn of events which kept even the skeptics at bay.
At the end of the day after the register is counted and store is cleaned up, before the lights are shut off one lesson remains; that above all Love is all the matters, and that no matter what there is always room for Family. Before you turn out the lights make sure to take a shot with your loved ones, and leave a shot behind for Henry. Who's Henry you ask; well I think Stephanie Lynge puts its best, "No family comedy would be complete without the joy and discomfort of our memoires, and Mr. Tobiessen has given us Henry as possibly the most important character in the play. He is the ghost of our past, our hopes, and our dreams. Do you see him? Do you believe? Because maybe, just maybe, he is really there rooting for us to find our way home." No matter your take away from this show, like a strong smooth whiskey, love and family are tough on the palate and linger around when all else fails. At the end of the night that is what Henry would want us all to remember. So take a trip to freeFall Theatre for their exceptional production of Lone Star Spirits on stage through March 29. Don't forget to hug the ones you love, and leave a shot for Henry, cause you'll never know what might bring you home again, but you can always go back no matter what. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office or by visiting freefalltheatre.com. freeFall Theatre continues its exceptional season of "A Decade of Daring" and with this production and upcoming productions of Dear World and OZ, I cannot wait to see, experience, and bear witness to the amazing work coming from one of the Finest Companies in our corner of the bay, and their co-production with the Hippodrome is just the ticket.
Photo Credit: Michael A Eaddy Photography