Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Review of "Pump Boys and Dinettes" at Media Theater, published in the News of Delaware County, 3-14-07

A friend and I sat at a bar one night, nursing drinks (not really) while the jukebox played mostly country music. Ever the wit, my friend remarked upon the simplicity and content of the lyrics, saying that he could easily pen a better country song; all he had to do was include references to his dog, engine blocks, life on the farm, and the girl who got away.

Well, it turns out, that in both our arrogance and condescension, we were extremely self-deluded. Country musicians really sing lyrics about catfish, farmer’s tans, drunken night fishing, and of course, the girl who got away (in this case, Dolly Parton). At least that’s what I learned at the Media Theater’s most recent production, a musical review fittingly called “Pump Boys and Dinettes.”

However, like any style of music, fantastic performers can make even the mundane memorable. And Media has assembled an incredibly talented cast of six singer-musician-actors that do just that.

The action (I can’t say plot) takes place in two spectacularly reproduced settings, a roadside diner and gas station, separated on stage by a stretch of Highway 57. Here we meet the four Pump Boys: Ed (Chris Blisset), Jim (Blake Braswell), Jackson (Seth Morgan), and LM (Brad Simmons), and the two waitresses of the title, Prudie (Sarah Gliko) and Rhetta Cupp (Meaghan Kyle).

In a series of skits and vignettes, the review follows them through the course of a day (it’s not really clear) from the introductory “Highway 57” to “Closing Time.” Along the way, we hear highlights like Simmons soulful “Serve Yourself” (with his own clever piano improvisations), Gliko’s heartfelt “The Best Man” (where she serenades a lucky audience member), and the consistently beautiful harmonizing of the four men—whether singing a capella or with the instruments (that they’re also playing). As banal as the lyrics may be (there really is a song about catfish), I couldn’t help tapping my feet, the energy of the cast was that infectious.

The show only loses the humor of what little script does exist, as director Tim Haney foregoes a straightforward presentation of the musical in favor of racier substitutions. This is most evident in how he openly plays the double entendres (“boys at the gas station can’t get enough of my pie”), and doesn’t do enough to make songs like “Farmer’s Tan” and “The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine” ridiculous enough. And some of the jokes get completely lost, as in Braswell’s story of milking a cow that inadvertently ate their marijuana plants, which is glossed over in between numbers. While Blisset’s dorky gas station attendant sneaks some laughs back in, the persistent lack of humor creates a number of dead spots in the show.

Otherwise, the set, rock-concert lighting, and costumes (think shirts with names stitched on front), all contribute to a highly energetic production of a play that is not without a certain charm. If you like country music even a little, this remarkable cast will make your entire evening worthwhile, even if they are only singing about fixing a Winnebago in time to date that girl from the Woolworth’s across the way. And no, those aren’t the lyrics my friend and I wrote; we’re not quite so clever as that.

No comments: