Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Lucky Spot"

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"The Lucky Spot"

by Beth Henley
Directed by Donna Sorbello

Scenic Design by Joseph Stephenson
Lighting Designed by Al Fairbrother
Sound Design & Stage Manager Matthew Libby

Cassidy Smith....................Jennifer Winters
Turnip Moss......................Michael Buckley
Lacey Rollins.....................Tambre Tarleton
Whitt Carmichael.......Joseph Zamparelli, Jr.
Gentleman......................Joseph Stephenson
Suejack Killer Hooker........Giuliana Lonigro
Reed Hooker..........................Richard Clark

Playwright Beth Henley has given Director Donna Sorbello a lot of conflicting difficulties in "The Lucky Spot". In a sense, the play would much rather be a movie, not so much set-wise --- all of it takes place in the same rural Southern dance-hall in 1934 --- but in terms of focus. There are scenes and speeches here that yearn after cuts and close-ups to make them work in a way that careful staging cannot convey. Then again, the story itself, and its characters, never make up their mind whether they're intending to be a farcical send-up of Tennessee Williams or a realistic remake of "Li'l Abner" --- and if Sorbello had taken either approach, the other would ruin it. And Henley sets up problems for these ambiguous people, and then solves none of them. It's hard to win when the playwright's against you.

The play has three pairs of likely lovers that should end up with one another, and a villain, in a formula that Gilbert & Sullivan used. The young pair is a pregnant featherheaded teenager determined that "This thing inside'a me ain't gonna be borned a bastid!" for whom the obvious match is a luckless kid who keeps asking "You think people'd take me more serious if I changed my name from Turnip?" Jennifer Winters and Michael Buckley play these parts for laughs --- which means that when he pontificates, or when she grits her teeth, the flashes of seriousness cannot ring true.

The old pair are a faded dance-hall floozy and the one widowed farmer who actually shows up at The Lucky Spot cafe's Christmas Eve grand opening. Tambre Tarleton has her self-pitying coquetry pegged, but when she confides that the only wedding she attended was her own but the groom never showed up, there's no shift in camera-angles to catch any self-deprecating tear, while Joseph Stephenson is just a stock-company rube ripe for picking.

The robust, brawling pair of lovers are married and edging up toward reconciliation. He won both the cafe and the teenager in a poker game, and has the unlikely dream of bringing New Orleans' sporting life to Pigeon, Louisiana, 60 miles away. His dance-hall queen wife just got out of three years in Angola Prison for throwing an uppity patron over a banister-rail. But they just might get back together, if they can just stop trying to shoot or to strangle one another.

Reed Hooker is indeed the source of his teenage-charge's condition --- in a one-night drunken search for mutual comfort, so she says --- and Richard Clark has the complicated task of balancing his doomed dreams with his residual love. Again, close-ups could underscore his personal truths while wide-angle shots of his flamboyant bravado displayed his public persona. And his wife Suejack comes quietly into the nascent dance-hall admitting she is no longer pretty --- though with makeup or without Giuliana Lonigro can never be anything else but. Like Reed, Suejack is past her high-living days of high-stakes gambling and drunken brawls. It's just that she and Reed can no more accept one another than they can themselves for what they really are.

The villain here has a legal paper demanding $350 that The Lucky Spot cafe has little chance of earning between Christmas Eve and the first of the year, even in the best of circumstances --- it is 1934 after all --- but he's willing to cut cards with Suejack if she's willing to add a night the pot. Joseph Zamparelli Jr. has all the stock symbols, from the oily grin to the patent-leather shoes, but he is caught like the rest in Beth Henley's waffle between Southern send-up and something else.

It's not as though everyone refuses to try. On the contrary, they try to embody all the conflicting impulses Henley deals out, and there is no through-line to this script. Apparently Donna Sorbello has yet to make a director's cut.


"The Lucky Spot" (till 20 December)
Leland Center, BCA, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON

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