First things first: Hands down, The Hippodrome has, hands down, a far better bar than any of our Tampa Bay theaters. I’ll admit, I didn’t need to drive to Gainesville to watch “Lone Star Spirits” for this review, but I didn’t exactly need to not drive there, either. Everyone should visit the Hipp at least once, if only for the novelty of riding in an elevator that requires an operator.
“Lone Star Spirits”
6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg
Through Mar. 29
Wed.-Thurs., 7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; and Sun., 2 p.m.
But enough about Gainesville and more about the latest at freeFall, “Lone Star Spirits,” which opens at there on the heels of “Marie & Rosetta,” which now travels to Gainesville for the rest of its run.
The arrangement between the two theaters makes a great deal of sense economically—each theater pays for one set and gets two plays, and the performers get a longer run. In the case of “Lone Star Spirits,” we get to see a play in Tampa Bay that’s had some time to hit its stride.
And oh, what a fine stride it is. A far cry from “Marie & Rosetta” but no less worthy of your time and money, “Lone Star Spirits” hits all the right notes for a funny yet endearing show. When we saw it in Gainesville, every actor was in prime form, making us laugh and almost cry (yes, almost—telling you anymore than that would be giving away the ending.)
While no doubt everyone will have their favorite characters in this play, I found myself drawn to Brooke Tyler Benson’s Jessica, who’s hooking up with Marley’s (played by Marissa Toogood, a familiar freeFall face) ex-boyfriend Drew (Haulston Mann.) Drew’s a washed up high school football star who can’t let go of his glory days; Jessica has a kid and a sex drive, and she isn’t ashamed of either. What I appreciated about Benson’s performance was the way she wore the character, so that we never doubted how tough she was but we also really, really liked her. Her costume (designed by Stephanie Parks) might also have been the one I most wanted to steal (but totally didn’t.)
Niall McGinty’s Ben and Bryan Mercer’s Walter (Marley’s hipster fiance and decidedly non-hipster dad, respectively) are also easy favorites, although I couldn’t stand Ben (the character, not the fine performance McGinty delivered)—and I was also really glad Walter wasn’t my dad. It’s to McGinty’s credit as a performer that I instantly disliked Ben, and not just because of his hipster green jeans (sorry, hipsters, but Parks nailed the worst parts of your style.) Walter, while lovable and sentimental, is also something of a hot mess; Mercer really made the hot-messiness shine through. Walter’s the anchor of the show, so it’s a tough tightrope to walk: a crucial part of the plot, but also a character who’s both likable and unlikable.
Toogood, for her part, played the part of a daughter returning home for some uncomfortable reasons exactly as she should have, because as much as I wanted to lean into disliking her, I found that I couldn’t. That’s a credit to the performer, not any grand statement about how I have a hard time disliking people (I don’t.) Most impressive of all these things? This cast pulled together one hell of an ensemble performance. There’s literally nothing about this production you won’t love, provided you don’t mind making fun of hipsters or country folk.
The best part of this show—other than everything—is the timing for Tampa Bay. After watching lives fall apart in “Skeleton Crew” and seeing a black woman die in shambles in “Marie & Rosetta,” a comedy with a hipster, ghost, and a country boy comes at just the right time. It’s some levity in a world where everything feels like it needs to make a statement.
“Lone Star Spirits” makes no statements. Sure, sure, there’s some romanticized publicity that talks about “the ghosts that divide us all” but honestly, you’ll see people shooting each other in the foot (nope, not a metaphor) and really, that’s sort of what some of us need right now.
So, go. This play has my whole-hearted endorsement. From the moment the show opens until the curtain falls (OK, that’s a metaphor) you’ll lose yourself in their (sometimes pathetic, sometimes earnest) lives. “Lone Star Spirits” is one hell of a funny show, so go laugh.
Cathy Salustri is CL’s former arts + entertainment editor. Contact her here or subscribe to her newsletter about Florida here.
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