Sept. 27, 2004


A Venus and Mars comparison
By David Ollington

For years the Olathe Community Theatre has made its mark as one of the most progressive, stalwart and driven civic theatre groups in the metropolitan area. The walls of the lobby in their church-turned-theatre carry photographs of past productions, many featuring now-prominent professional Kansas City actors. The detail and attention put into their current production, Laundry and Bourbon/Lone Star continues a long tradition of quality presentations.

The play by James McLure consists of two distinct one-acts, Laundry and Bourbon comprises Act I and Lone Star, Act II. Each act holds an individual, complete story line, but McLure has creatively connected the plays with plot, theme and character relationships. In Act I, three women interact while watching TV, folding laundry and downing bourbon. In Act II, McClure reveals the men in their life, drinking beer at a Texas saloon.

(l to r) Karen Mason as Amy Lee Fullernoy, Jan Belden as Elizabeth Caulder, and Bess Wallerstein as Hattie Dealing in Laundry & Bourdon/Lone Star. (photo courtesy Olathe Community Theatre)

Elizabeth Caulder (Jan C. Belden) relaxes on her back porch on a hot day in Maynard, TX, 1978. A friend of hers, Hattie Dealing (Bess Wallerstein) arrives, looking for respite from the demands of her children and wanting to gossip. She says she wants to "get away from my kids and get bombed." They exchange in seemingly trivial chat until Hattie finally corners Elizabeth, saying, "What's bothering you?" Hattie discovers that Elizabeth's husband Roy hasn't come home for days. Elizabeth stares at the horizon, watching and hoping for the approach of Roy's 1959 Pink Thunderbird convertible. They fold laundry, watch Let's Make a Deal and knock back bourbon and coke.

Hattie shares word of seeing him with other women ("He's done more wandering than Lewis and Clark") and this fails to surprise Elizabeth; she's used to his philandering. Belden plays this beautifully. Her Elizabeth expresses pensive concern for her husband but later can still laugh, gossip and let her mind wander to other things, driving home the drama of Elizabeth's plight.

Elizabeth's air conditioning doesn't work. The women fan themselves repetitively. Amy Lee Fullernoy arrives representing the air conditioning repair service. She brings an air filter but the engineering problem surpasses its replacement. Amy also wears the exact same outfit as Hattie, and this, coupled with oppressive Texas heat, vociferously ignites a climactic wave of catty conflict between them.

Act II opens and we meet Elizabeth's absent husband Roy (Jeff Palmer) that very evening, guzzling beer at a nearby saloon. He and his brother Ray (John Bergantine) exchange very Texan, very redneck words about Roy's experience in Viet Nam, beer, popcorn, Baby Ruth Bars and about Roy's pride and joy, his 1959 Pink Thunderbird convertible. A humorous segment has them pretending to be at battle in 'Nam, Ray sneaking up on Roy in a guerilla attack.

Amy's husband Cletis (Mark Ford) arrives, a nervous, nerdy, conservative buffoon. When Roy leaves him and Ray alone together, Cletis admits the cause of his jittery disposition: he drove Roy's prize car, without permission and managed to total it. Cletis escapes, leaving Ray with the difficult task of informing Roy of his car's dismemberment. Before breaking that news, Ray confesses that while Roy was in Viet Nam, he and Elizabeth, Roy's wife, Ray's sister in law, engaged in repeated coitus. Palmer as Roy emits Texas-sized rage over the loss of his car and his own cuckoldry.

McLure wove together fascinating connections of plot and theme between the two one-act-plays. We see the intricacies of these relationships from the eyes of one gender, then the other. The cherished car, though unseen, almost becomes a seventh character in the play, figuring so prominently into both acts.

A man from the distant past, Wayne, serves as another of McClure's intriguing motifs. Wayne was one of the men's comrades; Hattie married Wayne years ago, Wayne stole a car and ended up in prison, Hattie remarried her current husband Vernon, a less-than-agreeable choice.

The Olathe Community Theatre offers an amateur production with a professional attention to detail. The actors deliver believable, emotional and rangy performances. Belden as Elizabeth in particular draws us into the gritty reality of this haggard housewife, showing us every corner of Elizabeth's interior landscape. Wallerstein as Hattie easily erupts into fervent tantrums and regales the audience with colloquial statements, for example, "She doesn't have kids; she drops litters." Palmer plays Roy with masculinity, showing us how unsuccessfully Roy hides his vulnerability.

Obviously, director Geff Moyer astutely detailed the characters' subtexts. Occasionally, though, the actors speak too softly to be heard and understood, but the realism of their work almost compensates for that.

Andy King designed a rustic set employing enough strong design elements to closely compare to sets on the Unicorn stage. The production doesn't include a change of scenery between acts. He delineated the two locations clearly while connecting them with earthy colors and rural details, just as McLure created two separate plays with an intertwined story.

Laundry & Bourbon/Lone Star runs until Oct. 2 at the Olathe Community Theatre, 500 East Loula. Adult ticket prices are $10, students and seniors, $9, and children under 12, $8. Call 913-782-2990.

David Ollington is a Kansas City-based writer and teaches at Kansas State University in Manhattan. He can be contacted at or



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