September 20 - 26, 1994


Theater Reviews: Asian Rednecks
by N.W. Barcus

TWO ONE-ACTS, Laundry and Bourbon and Lonestar, playing at the Theatre Off Jackson through September 25, both take place in the small town of Maynard, Texas. Playing to urban fantasies of small-town life and substituting eccentricity for pathology, these plays (both written by James McLure) are not realistic or deep, but are amiable and amusing. Produced by ReAct, whose mission is to "provide quality entertainment using multicultural and non-traditional casting," all the parts are played by Asian-Americans, and it is jarring at first to see Asian-Americans play red-necks, particularly when the characters talk about gooks and a bizarre game called mah-jong. By reminding us of the rarity of seeing Asian-Americans portray boot-stompin' beer-swillin' good ole boys and gals (or Blanche Dubois or Hamlet for that matter), ReAct points out common racial stereotyping that is perhaps nowhere so pervasive and rigid as in theater casting.

In the first play, three women fold laundry and drink bourbon. Obsessions with game shows, bratty children, and Paul Newman as Hud are pretty routine, but it does touch on the complex social shifting that goes on after high school in small towns as football stars fade to laborers and nerds take over Daddy's appliance business. The weaker of the two plays, probably because the playwright is reluctant to make the women as idiotic as the men, Laundry provides background and history needed for the second play.

In the second play, two brothers are getting drunk in the parking lot in back of a local tavern, a Saturday-night routine. One brother reminisces endlessly about Vit'man and his sexual success in high school. The other brother, a simpleton, debunks the ersatz glory of drunken brawls in pear-buttoned shirts by his inattention to dramatic embellishments he's heard a hundred times and by vaguely questioning whether at some point Texas men shouldn't grow up. There are some funny lines in this play: "Who knows my hurt? Who could possibly understand my hurt?" one brother asks. "Hank Williams?" the other replies. And "Everybody I know is either married or moved to Oklahoma or shot his toes off." And "Goddammit, you're a Christian!"

Joseph S. Yang is quite good as the simpleton, and Lisa Marie Nakamura creates a recognizable social climber, small-town style. These are types, but the other roles are even less realistic, almost caricatures. Director David Hsieh needs to excercise a little more restraint, but the play itself is built on types. Amusing as it is at times to see good old boys debunked, the plays debunk good old boys' most benign aspects--alcoholism, drunken driving, fights and chronic unemployment--and don't take on their harsher aspects--mean-spiritedness and intolerance. Adult bullies are not as innocuous as these plays make them appear, as anyone raised in a small town, or a big city, can testify. N.W.B.


© Copyright 1994 - Reprinted with permission by ReAct.