Deep in the heart of Texas


By Matthew David Barton
Directed by Troy Acree
Alamo Theater Company - The Matthew David Barton Festival
Altered Stages
Equity approved showcase (closed)
Review by David Mackler

As part of its "Matthew David Barton" Festival, Alamo Theater presented Mr. Barton's Home. By its end, the play felt as if it had been padded out from a more concise version, but there was some good writing and good, sustained performances, and a funny lesson on how not to propose marriage.

Barton allows himself the luxury of manipulating the audience when the two characters came on stage - Gina (Wynn Everett) and Daryl (Alvin Lotspeich) know who they are, but we have to discover them, assemble them out of the bits and pieces of dialogue and action. Daryl keeps saying that he's glad Gina is back, but where's she been? Why is she so tentative? Why are they so nervous with each other? Character and situation are revealed slowly - sometimes blatantly, as with Daryl's Texas chauvinism when he praises the quality of Texas beer, sometimes more realistically, as with Gail's Freudian slip, saying marriage when she meant miscarriage.

As it turns out, Gina is pregnant, and the play lurches a bit as it refocuses on situation rather than character. But some good touches continue that advance both - Daryl's present of a make-your-own tortilla kit based on a past remark Gina doesn't even remember making; or the fact that the unspoken question (who's the baby's father?) resound all the louder for not being raised as they talked about Daryl's work at the garage, or his detailed memory of when they first got together. He even remembers the dreams and desires she told him, and Everett's reaction as he related them showed Gina's despair at her dreams deferred while she still tries to keep her spirits up about the present.

But once the characters are delineated, the play doesn't have many places to go. There is some funny business regarding how to properly ask "will you marry me?" and a pointed lesson on how and where to hide the ring, but the "discovering" of information starts to seem forced. The audience has to decode what Daryl says he overheard in a phone call Gina made, who she was talking to and what her words meant, but it is clear by then that the information will be revealed eventually, and that it is merely a writer's trick played once too often. Pointed questions (Daryl wants to know if Gina's come back because of him or because she's pregnant; why she feels so strongly about abortion) don't really get answered, but raising them doesn't register as quite enough. Answers aren't required, but how Daryl and Gina deal with the issues doesn't seem deep enough.

The set (design by John Gallarello) for the intermissionless play suggested (the trailer?) where Daryl would live, and the lighting and costumes (uncredited) were basic and unadorned. Lotspeich had a clear handle on Daryl's mix of simplicity, directness, and decency, and Everett revealed a bundle of nerves and confusion even as she tried to direct events she had no control over. Director Troy Acree kept the play's pace steady, and if he's the one who picked the songs that bracketed the intermission, they were good choices. Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" ended act one after Gina had specifically requested a ring and a proposal, and act two opened with Willie Nelson singing "I'll always love you in my own peculiar way." Home would have been better with more of that kind of cleverness. (See also Boxing.)

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2001 David Mackler