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Set in Texas and Louisiana on the eve of the Great Depression, it retools the Bard's early comedy and makes it sing in a vibrant country western idiom. Though overly long at two and a half hours, the good acting and singing from some Broadway talents and newcomers will lasso your admiration.
Here's the story. Two brothers in Texas are reconnecting after two years of being apart. We meet the responsible cattle rancher and oil man King Navarre and his younger playboy brother Berowne Navarre. With the Great Depression looming on the horizon, the King persuades Berowne and his college buddies Duke and Bubba to sign a three-year contract of employment on the Navarre ranch with this proviso: no drinking, no high-life, and no womanizing.
Before the ink can dry on the contract, four smart and attractive women materialize on the scene. The men, smitten with their beauty and charm, begin to contemplate the possibilities of true love and if their contracts can be renegotiated.
Don't expect to hear the great feast of language of the original play. In fact, there's not a scrap of Shakespearean poetry in Loveless Texas. Although you may well miss some of the eloquent language, it's fun to hear the characters speaking in a twangy Texan or Louisiana accent, and occasionally stretching their tonsils with some cowboy yodels.
Although Loveless Texas has many correspondences to Shakespeare's tale, it doesn't share its dramatic economy or daring innovation to the comedy genre. Strangely, Heffernan doesn't end her musical following the abrupt announcement of the off-stage death of LaReine Beausoleil's father. Instead the piece stretches on for nearly another hour with more romantic plot development.
Shakespeare's realistic ending is also reversed with the American lovers paired off to supposedly live happily-ever-after. This feel-good ending does take the sharp edge off Shakespeare's drama and dilutes one of the key points that the Bard was trying to make: Real life is hardly tidy and can often leave us at loose ends, confronting unresolvable situations.
While the book is so-so, Henry Aronson's music and lyrics are thoroughly sound. There are 19 musical numbers in all, with nary a dud among them. Act 1 is launched by the feisty "This Party Will Never End," sung by tbuckeroos Berowne, Bubba, and Duke, plus the ensemble. Other highlights include the coy "I'll Chase Him Till He Catches Me" and the humorous "If Ladies Was Friendly (Like Horses)." Act 2 is equally good, with the sturdy strains of "Move a Mountain," the more reflective "Home To Your Own," and the uplifting finale "I Nearly Missed It."
The ensemble acting is uniformly strong. The true standouts are newcomer Joe Joseph playing Berowne and Broadway veteran John Herrera as the pastor Joe Don Armado. Kimberly JaJuan and Trisha Jeffrey are also fine as Gwen and LaReine Beausoleil, respectively. The band serves up an array Texas swing, bluegrass, blues, and Cajun waltz.
The stage at the Sheen Center's black box theater is scarcely bigger than a cowboy's bandana. But that doesn't keep the creative team from doing an impressive job. Evan Hill's Spartan set, combined with Michael O'Connor's lighting, visually supports the ins and outs of the plot. Cheryl McCarron's supplies appropriate cowboy outfits (and disguises) for the men and colorful country garb for the women. The props are few but a large multi-media screen set back from center stage effectively displays images that continually change to serve the dramatic action. A small alcove for the live band allows the musicians to be visible to the audience without having them upstage the performers.
Under the aegis of the Boomerang Theatre Company, Loveless Texas, in spite of its flaws, is well worth a visit. This may well be the first time that Love's Labour's Lost has been reimagined in American rawhide and cowboy boots.
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Loveless Texas, written and directed by Caitlin Heffernan
Music and lyrics by Henry Aronson.
Cast: John Herrera (Pastor Joe Don Armado), Kimberly JaJuan (Gwen Soileau), Trisha Jeffrey (LaReineBeausoleil), Amanda Lea LaVergne (Rosaline Aucoin)), Darren Ritchie (King Loveless Ferdinand Navarre), Colin Barkell (Boyet Duke Dumaine), Brett Benowitz (Kyle Bubba Longaville), CJ Eldred (Randy Costard), Joe Joseph (Berowne Loveless Navarre), Chase Kamata (Jacquenetta Dumaine), Annette Navarro (Kathy Bridge), and Bligh Voth (Maria Broussard).
Sets: Evan Hill
Costumes: Cheryl McCarron
Lighting: Michael O'Connor
Sound: Ian Wehrle
Movement: Dan Renkin
Projection design: David J. Palmer
Props: Deb Gaouette
Vocal coach: Theresa McElwee
Stage Manager: Marci Skolnick
Sheen Center, 18 Bleecker StreetSheenCenter.org.
From 9/7/17; opening 9/9/17; closing 9/24/17.
Tuesday through Saturday @ 8pm; Sunday @ 7pm; Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30pm.
Running time: 2 hours; 20 minutes with one intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 9/7/17
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