PHIL LOWDEN’S “RUBY RED” NEEDS MORE NURTURING, FEWER GHOSTS, AND ONE LESS HILLBILLY IF IT IS TRULY TO BLOSSOM
The Saturday-matinee performance of the Cary Players’ Aug. 5-7 world-premiere production of RUBY RED was moderately entertaining; but like the patented thornless rose from which Cary playwright’s Phil Lowden’s down-home dramedy takes its title, this script is much in need of some judicious pruning. For starters, the RUBY RED has 14 characters, including two pairs of ghosts — of the same two characters — Lloyd and Bridget Dobbs (played by Harvey Joyner and Bonnie Stack as senior citizens and by Rob Steinberg and Stephanie Rinehart as twenty-somethings, just meeting and falling in love). In-between ghostly visitations, there is an exceptionally convoluted story that requires a couple of highly improbable plot twists to reach a satisfactory conclusion.
Tracy Fulghum and Joanna Herath portray Jack and Anne Wells, a quarreling couple whose marriage is not only on the rocks, but fast sinking beneath the waves. Jack is a former business executive, now desperately struggling to get his new landscaping business up and running; and Anne’s an independently wealthy doctoral candidate, working on her Ph.D. degree in psychology, and secretly using her husband’s psychological struggles as the subject for her dissertation.
But Jack has some secrets of his own. For starters, unbeknownst to Anne, Jack is clandestinely working with gimlet-eyed local developer Royce Llewellyn (Tim Wiest) to sell him a key parcel of land that his wife has just inherited from the recently deceased Lloyd Dobbs, the irascible Vietnam veteran who lived next-door and adored Anne but despised Jack.
Tracy Fulghum and Joanna Herath get some laughs with their 21st century version of the Battling Bickersons, and Tim Wiest makes the odious real estate developer a thoroughly hissable villain. Harvey Joyner and Bonnie Stack have little to do as the senior versions of former U.S. Air Force officer Lloyd Dobbs and Bridget, the lovely red-haired Irish lass that he met and married while convalescing from his war wounds; and Rob Steinberg and Stephanie Rinehart have a single, easily excisable scene as Young Lloyd and Young Bridget reenacting the moment that they first fell in love.
Rinehart and Steinberg get a little more time onstage as Jack and Anne’s daughter Claire and her boy-next-door boyfriend Mike Dobbs; and Gilly Conklin and Nick Karner play their parts as eccentric Virginia-born heiress Millie Vanderbergh and ostensibly British philately doctoral student Lemuel Hollis Dobbs for laughs, lots of laughs. But Karner, like Bonnie Stack before him, has a disappearing accent, although in the case of Hollis Dobbs, who is Lloyd’s son and Mike’s brother, the accent is an affectation, so that Hollis can sound more educated.
Gary Watts, who plays Lloyd Dobbs’ crusty old Air Force buddy Col. Herman “Stony” Bennington, retired, has a British accent of his own, which sounds genuine if not particularly appropriate for a Vietnam era American flyboy. Mika HuVard and Lyman Collins portray Abby Rose Dobbs Hankins and her hillbilly husband, Marshall “Poke” Hankins with gusto. Collins plays Poke as a character who just stepped out of the cornfield on “Hee-Haw,” and his white-trash caricature gets guffaws, even though his marriage with Abby Rose is an extremely unlikely match.
Dramatist Phil Lowden, who doubles as producer for this no-frills presentation, and local director Jaret Preston get Lowden’s overstuffed script up and running; but there are still too many preposterous plot turns for the script to run smoothly. RUBY RED needs more nurturing, three fewer ghosts, and one less hillbilly if it is truly to blossom.
SECOND OPINION: Aug. 3rd CARY CITIZEN preview by Lindsey Chester: http://www.carycitizen.com/2010/08/03/local-playwrights-debut/. (To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the August 5th TRIANGLE THEATER REVIEW preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2010/08/ruby-red-by-phil-lowden-will-make-its-world-premiere-in-cary-aug-5-7/.)
VENUES/PARKING/DIRECTIONS: Page-Walker Arts & History Center: http://townofcary.org/. Herbert C. Young Community Center: http://townofcary.org/.
OTHER LINKS: Cary Playwrights’ Forum: http://www.caryplaywrightsforum.org/ (official website).