Lone Star Spirits: a heartfelt, hilarious ode to the everyman

Jungle Theater, through May 7

Nate Cheeseman (Drew), Thallis Santesteban (Marley), John Catron (Ben), and Christian Bardin (Jessica) PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Norman

In today’s fractured world, so much of what we experience, artistically and otherwise, carries political and emotional baggage. With Josh Tobiessen’s play Lone Star Spirits, a small, hysterical comedy with an earnest heart that explores what divides us and brings us together, The Jungle offers an apt call to empathy and common ground. It’s not a political play, but it colors in the lines of both rural and urban folks that have been too often broadly characterized over the last year and a half.

Lone Star Spirits, running through May 7, follows Walter, the proprietor of the titular small town liquor store in Texas. His estranged daughter, Marley, now a lawyer living in Austin, comes for a visit to introduce him to her new hipster fiancée and discuss some business issues. Her appearance awakens a few ghosts—figuratively and literally—namely her past relationships with high school boyfriend, a former good friend, and Walter.

Lone Star Spirits is brimming with talent—no real weak links exist in this five-person cast. Much of the emotional heavy-lifting falls to the shoulders of Jungle veteran Terry Hempleman, whose Walter is pitch-perfect, both frustrating and endearing. As townie Jessica, a high school friend of Marley’s and now a widowed mother and nurse, Christian Bordin earnestly uncovers pathos in both broad comedy and small conversations.

Marley’s romantic partners, past and present, are both played skill by Guthrie regular John Catron, who captures just the right level of snobbery in Marley’s current fiancée Ben, and by Nate Cheeseman, whose Drew relives his high school glory days as a way to sooth any feelings of current inadequacy. Thallis Santesteban as Marley was a tad stiff toward the beginning of the performance we saw, but seemed to settle into her character in time for a resonant emotional climax.

Lone Star Spirits is thoughtfully directed by Sarah Rasmussen, who clearly finds the heart and warmth in the play as well as assembles a fantastic artistic team. Scenic and costume designer Sarah Bahr has created a beautiful, lived-in space with an acute attention to detail on stage; a space that doubles as a bar for theater patrons prior to the beginning of the show. Her costumes, also, underline the play’s thematic tensions and help fill in the cracks of the characters. Lighting (by Barry Browning) and sound (by Sean Healey) are also well-crafted without drawing too much attention to themselves.

In the wrong hands, Lone Star Spirits could likely come across as overly-broad, as its characters occasionally veer into caricature and seem archetypal. But it all works here, and we can’t help but see friends and loved ones, as well as ourselves, in the characters and interactions on stage. And to reiterate – it is eminently watchable and really, really funny, with performers displaying real chemistry and maintaining quick-witted rhythms throughout.

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