Crazy for Patsy

But her vulgar counterpart doesn't belong on the same stage

There are two actresses in Always ... Patsy Cline, and the parts that they play are about as different as satin and chintz. Shelly Trocolli is all satin. She plays Patsy Cline as a consummately classy chanteuse, all sincerity and dignity, with a tincture of melancholy. Diana Rogers, meanwhile, is chintziness itself. As Cline fan Louise Seeger, she's vulgar, trashy, gross in size and conduct. It's author Ted Swindley's idea to have crude, crass Seeger introduce us to lovely, lonely Cline, and to tell us the story — interspersed with Cline's songs — of some hours that the two women spent together in Houston. Seduced by Cline's persona and music and delighted by Seeger's hijinks, we're supposed to have, it would seem, a multidimensional experience. Cline for the heart, Seeger for the groin. Or beer belly. Or maybe armpits.

I'm saying it doesn't work. What I'm not saying is that there's a problem with the acting. No, Trocolli's just fine as Cline, and Rogers, who was so formidable in Beauty Queen of Leenane some months ago, couldn't be a more convincing Seeger. What's wrong here is the fundamental premise, that Cline and her music can be best presented to us by a loutish fan. What's the subtext, that our favorite performers have all the delicacy, while we who admire them are hopeless pigs? Why, in a show about Patsy Cline's wonderful music and tragically short life, are we faced with Seeger strutting vainly, shimmying lasciviously, blowing her nose loudly and generally treating us as fellow slobs? Supposedly, the character of Seeger is based on a real person, but reality is no excuse. Art thrives on selectivity, on the right, the inevitable choice. Seeger, simply put, doesn't belong in this play. She's a terribly conspicuous distraction from Patsy Cline.

Fortunately, Cline gets her airtime. Trocolli sings more than 20 songs in the course of the evening, and though her voice isn't always perfect, more often than not it's abundantly pleasing, and as enchantingly vulnerable as Cline's own. The four-man band (Logan Brown on piano, Dean Laber on electric guitar, Joe Grady on bass and Dave Rudolph on drums) could hardly be better, and if you're willing to look beyond "Crazy" and "I Fall to Pieces," you'll find a lot to enjoy in "Back in Baby's Arms," "Stupid Cupid," "Blue Moon of Kentucky" and a host of others.

Rick Criswell's direction has his characters using most of the wide Jaeb Theater stage, and his costumes, from Cline's pink suit to the band's black western outfits and Seeger's old cowboy boots, are unfailingly appropriate.

There's not much to Michael Chamoun's set, though — a couple of tables and a few chairs, a bandstand and a jukebox — and the 1950s slides that are projected against the backdrop before the opening curtain too often seem irrelevant (James Dean? Marlon Brando?).

Still, the most glaring irrelevance is the presence of Louise Seeger, reality-based or not. Yes, I'm willing to believe that someone by that name first heard Cline sing on the Arthur Godfrey TV show, eventually went to a concert and met her, invited her home, served her a meal, drove her to the airport and corresponded with her. But author Swindley has taken this character and turned her into a gasbag, into the anti-Cline, into the one person least described by the singer's plaintive, lilting voice. Listen closely to the songs; you'll hear longing, fragility, deep sadness, mysterious joy. What you won't hear is noisy, narcissistic, lecherous Louise.

Patsy Cline and her songbook are worthy subjects. Take the tour.

And, if you can, do your best to ignore the guide.

9-11 RememberedAs we approach the second anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, two local theater companies will offer the same commemorative play.

On Sept. 3 and 10, Jobsite Theater will stage Anne Nelson's The Guys at the Jaeb Theater of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Brian Shea will direct and Paul and Roz Potenza will star. Proceeds from the first show will benefit the children and widows of the Fire Department of New York; receipts from the second will benefit Tampa Fire Rescue.

A separate production will follow in St. Petersburg Sept. 12-28, when the Venue Ensemble Theatre brings The Guys to the Sunshine Center at 330 Fifth St. N. Dan Khoury directs; Susan Demers and James Demetrius star.

The plot of The Guys — first produced at New York City's Flea Theater — is as follows: Less than two weeks after the 9-11 attacks, New Yorkers are still in shock. One of them, an editor named Joan, receives an unexpected phone call on behalf of Nick, a fire captain who has lost most of his men in the attack. He's looking for a writer to help him with the eulogies he has to present at their memorial services. Nick and Joan spend a long afternoon together, recalling the fallen men, recounting their virtues and foibles, and fashioning their stories. In the process they forge a friendship based on their shared love for New York.

The first Manhattan production of The Guys starred Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver. Since then, both stage and screen stars have taken turns in the piece in New York, California and across the country.

Tickets to the Jobsite benefits are $25 (call 813-229-STAR). Tickets to the Venue production are $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors (call 727-822-6194).

Homegrown Comedy A comedy that was developed at the WordBRIDGE workshop at St. Petersburg's Eckerd College is coming to Gulfport after a first production at the Riverside Theatre in Iowa. Marry Me, by Thea Cooper, is about a married woman pursued by her childhood sweetheart. She turns him down for the umpteenth time but then discovers that her husband has a different view of things.

Marry Me opens Thursday, Sept. 4, at the Catherine A. Hickman Theater of Gulfport, 5501 27th Ave. S., and runs two weeks, with Thursday through Sunday performances. For tickets to this Florida premiere, call 727-322-0316.

Performance Critic Mark E. Leib can be reached at [email protected] or 813-248-8888 ext. 305.

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