HONKY TONK LAUNDRY Theatre Review
Playwright/director Roger Bean’s Honky Tonk Laundry is like a dramatization of a Country Western song: A hard luck tuneful tale featuring brokenhearted Southerners who are no longer (if they ever were) the belles of the ball, brought to the live stage. Unfortunately all of the music is canned, and most if not all of the songs are CW or perhaps pop standards, such as Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man.” However, to be fair, the singing that accompanies the plus-one soundtrack warbled by Bets Malone (as Lana Mae Hopkins, owner of the Wishy Washy Washateria) and Misty Cotton (as employee/co-singer Katie Lane Murphy) and their hoofing choreo-ed by James Vasquez is often enjoyable.
How interesting that this limited, perhaps stereotypical look at Dixie opened the weekend of the antifascist fight in Virginia triggered by plans to remove a statue of the treasonous Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
The lowbrow story, such that there is, is set nowadays way down yonder in the land of misty cotton, which events like the Charlottesville clash ensures is unforgotten. How interesting that this limited, perhaps stereotypical look at Dixie opened the weekend of the antifascist fight in Virginia triggered by plans to remove a statue of the treasonous Confederate General Robert E. Lee. In any case, Lana was an aspiring singer who gave up her dream to become a star at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville to run the family’s full service launderette when she inherited the Washateria (well-designed by Tom Buderwitz with effective, mood-setting lighting during one Act Two number by Steven Young). She encounters Katie, who’s offstage boyfriend “dumb shit Danny” has a cheating heart.
Lana hires Katie to work at the Wishy Washy and they become fast friends - a relationship intensified by Lana’s discovery that her good ol’ boy, offstage Earl, is also straying. In Act Two the gal pals join forces to make Lana’s CW dreams come true, and 95% of the second act is merely an excuse for these Dixie dolls to sing and holler and hoof up a storm in a contrived concert masquerading as a play. (Although in terms of disguises and costumes, Byron Batista’s wigs are big enough to make Arkansan Bill Clinton drool.)
It’s about as much as a plot as could fill a CW song - but not necessarily a real, original musical. Tennessee Williams it ain’t, although he often dramatized similar themes. Seattle-born Bean specializes in jukebox musicals such as The Marvelous Wonderettes (which nabbed the 2007 LA Ovation Award for Best Musical) and various spin-offs. Honky Tonk, too, seems to be on the spin cycle, recycled with a superficial Southern setting and ambiance and artistically purloined songs created by others for completely different reasons, such as Nancy Sinatra’s proto-feminist “These Boots Were Made for Walking.”
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To be charitable, the L.A. premiere of Honky Tonk seems to be presented at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre with an eye on grander venues, where the taped music could actually be performed by a live band and the miked-up singing won’t be too loud for an intimate showcase. At best this wannabe musical is rated “M.E.” - for “mildly entertaining” - while the best thing this two-hander has going for it are the winning performances by Malone and Cotton. These would-be Dixie chicks make do with the material they are given, which they surmount with their Opry-esque talents and charming presences as heartbroken, jilted belles determined to ring their bells.
Honky Tonk Laundry is being performed on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. through Sept. 17 at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre, The Hudson Theatres, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90038, at Theatre Row. For tickets: Call (323)960-5770 or see www.plays411.com/honkytonklaundry or www.honkytonklaundry.com.
As part of the “Ten Films That Shook the World” series celebrating the Russian Revolution’s centennial film historian/reviewer Ed Rampell is co-presenting Aleksandr Dovzhenko’s revolutionary poetic classic Earth on Friday, 7:30 p.m., August 25, 2017 at The L.A. Workers Center, 1251 S. St. Andrews Place, L.A., CA 90019. For info: firstname.lastname@example.org.