By Bob Evans
Get ready for some back hills hilarity as the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre presents the Kansas City premiere of Preston Lane’s “Tennessee Playboy,” a slapstick comedy about a family diner, The Hungry Chief Gas and Grub Diner, on the outskirts of a small eastern Tennessee town.
Not much happens at this small town diner other than slinging some southern grits and gossip from the locals until a “wanted” man appears in the dead of night after escaping the law as he flees from killing his father with a skillet. On the run for several days and nights, Chuck Macadie comes into the diner, catches the eye and imagination of Pearlene Dunbar, and the story begins to complicate with each and every character that comes.
The show opens with Pearlene and her fiancé since third grade discussing the impropriety of him being alone with her in the diner after the sun sets while her daddy and the local preacher gallivant the backwoods countryside in search of moonshine. The duo of Casey Jane and R.H. Wilhoit set the stage for the misadventures to follow in this fast-paced comedy in their opening scene. The plot starts to develop more as a pastor and diner owner stumble in after partaking of some local moonshine. And then, the fugitive bursts in with a story to excite the town –the face that he’s running from the law after slaying his father and leaving him dead with his skull cracked open from interaction with a swinging skillet.
That’s just the beginning. The story soon spreads and the local “Black Widow” whose first three husbands have all met mysterious deaths sashays in to check out the new man in town and try to stake a claim to him and his manly charms. Before the night’s over, two more women come to cast an eye on the on the lamb killer.
The story gets more complicated and intricate as the night goes on and the deceased father appears to collect his son and take him home. The story is a laugh-fest from start to finish. Directors Karen Paisley and Elizabeth Bettendorf Bowman collaborated to highlight every possible gag and joke in the story. Their work paid off with an ensemble cast that the audience can tell works well together and fires with every gesture and nuance available.
“Tennessee Playboy” uses broad comedy and mishap to create a funny story like one would see on an episode of I Love Lucy, The Andy Griffith Show, and so many more comedies of times past. “Tennessee Playboy” creates a two-act, two hour comedy with rich and colorful characters that keep the audience laughing throughout both acts.
The fun aspect of “Tennessee Playboy” lies in the fact that it plays for pure comedy and laughs. The show never gets dark, gloomy, or dramatic. Give accolades to the cast for the creative characters they present. Connor Eastman plays a simple-minded killer with a sense of innocense. R. H. Wilhoit plays the country bumpkin a few bricks shy of a load. Tony Beasley plays a slimy, slick preacher who seems to be more intent on finding the nearest moonshine still, while his accomplice in still-finding, Tim Ahlenius focuses more on moonshine than his business. An innocent nice girl who wants to be bad allows Casey Jane to create a flirtatious Pearline who wants more excitement than scrambled eggs, sausage, and grits allow. But, the most over-the-top character comes from Nicole Marie Green. As Widow Quince, her flaming red hair, skin tight clothes, heavy blue eye-shadow, steals so many scenes with her oversexed black widow character with flaming red hair. She’s created a character that draws on the comedic genius of Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett–on cocaine.
The cast is wonderful. They work as a finely-tuned machine, and hit all the gags, lines, and humor. Their movement and body language helps create the comedic effect. Though not quite up to Shakespeare standards, “Tennessee Playboy” will make young and old laugh throughout. The costumes and “almost” nudity adds a comedy flair as well. The only weakness is that the second act needs trimmed about 10 minutes. The playwright keeps teasing the audience with the ending which could come a bit sooner. As the play continues, it will become even faster paced.
“Tennessee Playboy” is a funny piece, suitable for all audiences. Even children will enjoy this comedic romp. The play contains no serious or hidden meanings. It’s just fun. This would be a nice evening out for those who just want to laugh for two hours and de-stress .
The cast is Conner Eastman as Chick Macadie, Casey Jane as Pearlene Dunbar, Nicole Marie Green as Widow Quince, Tony Beasley as Rev. Stykes, Tim Ahlenius as Mitch Dunbar, R.H. Wilhoit as Stanley Kincade, Chelcie Abercrombie as Inell Trotter, Deanna Mazdra as Margie Petland, Chuck Pulliam as Ferlin Macadie. Andy Penn will step in for Chuck Pulliam when he leaves for a few performances.
The production staff is Emily White, stage manager; Karen Paisley, production design; John Story, sound design; James Paisley, light board operator; Nicholas Relic, costume master; Marc Manley, props master; Michelle Cowles, running crew; Sam Culver, running crew. Crew members are: James Paisley, Chuck Pulliam, Tom Devine, Elizabeth Bowman, Nicholas Relic, Karen Paisley, Kyle Duck, Tim MacDonald, Greg Smith, Bob Paisley, Scott Wilson.
“Tennessee Playboy” continues through April 15 at midtown’s Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre. Tickets, dates, times, prices can be found on the MET website.
Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, “Tennessee Playboy”, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment