T Bone N Weasel (Theatre Pro Rata, through March 18, performing at the Gremlin Theatre) is showing its age. First produced in 1986 (and dozens of times since), playwright Jon Klein‘s endlessly amusing tale of the two hapless doofuses bouncing around the soft underbelly of the South reflects the oblivious go-go atmosphere of the era. Cops solicited bribes in public restaurants, salesman purchased obviously stolen cars and people of color were summarily fired from construction jobs – and the powers-that-were were too busy amassing fortunes to care.
The story could no longer believably play out like this. The country’s underbelly has hardened. Liquor store clerks in poor areas have retreated behind bullet proof glass. Racism, though it still (unfortunately) exists, isn’t as casual, so easily expressd. The T Bones and Weasels of the world – and Lord knows they’re still out there – are juiced up on methamphetamine, not on treacly pear brandy. They know how to work their guns.
Still, T Bone N Weasel remains relevant, and provides great pleasure, because of the timelessly goofy connection that evolves between the two men. The two parolees have stolen a car, possess a grand total of $27 (which they immediately lose). They travel aimlessly around South Carolina, going from used car lot, to freeway underpass, to construction site, looking for… for something. The exuberant Weasel sees the world as a deliciously ripe apple, hanging just out of reach. He constantly reaches for it, and never succeeds. But his optimistic spirit attracts the scowling T Bone. T Bone tags along, drawn to Weasel without really understanding why. This inarticulate attraction between these two men – you would have to call it love – makes the play enormously funny and, I would imagine, great fun to play.
Are these two dangerous? I believe so. They utterly lack any meanness; still, they do have guns and they are engaged in impetuous criminal hanky-panky. If director Amber Bjork has missed a chance, it’s that Weasel and T Bone seem too harmless, not scary enough. Still, this is a minor complaint. Ms. Bjork has staged this ultra-cinematic play with assurance, providing enough pumped-up music to nicely take us through the many scene breaks. This production moves briskly and always entertains.
Mark Benzel is perfect as the hyper Weasel. Wiry, wide-eye, looking at the distant horizon as if he’s seeing a shimmering mirage. He’s not the proverbial sharp tool in the shed, but he compels. We can understand why T Bone would stay with him. As T Bone, Theo Langason‘s smoldering, hulking, bearded presence provides excellent counterpoint. Klein has a single actor playing everyone else – Happy Sam, the ever-horny Verna Mae, the hysterically prescient Rev. Gluck – and this multi-casting gives T Bone N Weasel huge oomph. Ben Tallen (a Pro Rata company member) has a grand time here.
For more information about John Olive, please visit his website.