Pictured: Connor Eastman and Casey Jane. Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre.
Review: TENNESSEE PLAYBOY at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre
By Marissa Carter
TENNESSEE PLAYBOY, by Preston Lane, is an adaptation of J.M. Synge’s PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD. Though the original play was set in rural Ireland, the story translates well to a Tennessee diner.
Pearlene Dunbar (Casey Jane) spends a lot of time alone in her family-owned diner in East Tennessee. She spends her time cooking, cleaning, dreaming of excitement, and being downright bored. Her boredom is apparent when she complains to anyone who will listen about being left alone in the diner. She worries (she says) about dangerous types coming in while she is alone. She could be attacked, or kidnapped!
Pearlene finds the solution to both her loneliness and her boredom when Chuck Macadie (Connor Eastman) wanders into the diner one night. Chuck is on the run – for murder! Of course, the only logical thing to do is for Pearlene’s dad, Mitch (Tim Ahlenius) to hire Chuck right away and then head off into the night, leaving Pearlene and Chuck in the diner alone.
It’s not long before others in the town learn about the newcomer and what has brought him into their midst. What follows is a story of young love, desperate women, illegal moonshine, and insane double standards.
The whole show takes place in The Hungry Chief Gas and Grub Diner, in East Tennessee, 1975. The diner set was excellent Every detail was perfectly in place, and features like the cracked jukebox, mismatched tables and chairs, and a working kitchen really helped to sell the illusion.
The cast made full use of this set, creating one of the most energetic shows I have ever seen. The blocking had the characters moving constantly around the stage, and the entire cast did a great job of making the movement look intentional while delivering characters that were very much alive.
This energy level was absolutely necessary for the show because the script was slow. There were times that scenes dragged despite the best efforts of the cast. The author could have easily told the same story in ¾ of the time and eliminated several pointless and repeated conversations. Even so, the overall story is fun and the acting here should really not be missed.
Jane did a superb job with her character Pearlene, showing us a girl who was desperate for change and an escape from monotony, but completely lacking the courage to see the change through. Her conflicting emotions and racing thoughts were etched in every movement and facial expression. Additionally, Nicole Marie Green was hilarious as Widow Quince, displaying a heart of gold in spite of the fact that she may or may not be a murderer.
Every single member of this cast was on point. This was really evident in the last act of the show when we got to see some surprisingly well choreographed slow motion and group movement scenes. These moments were so well done that they brought delighted gasps and spontaneous applause from the audience. Fun elements like these, and the incredible talent of the cast, more than made up for the weak points in the script.
TENNESSEE PLAYBOY runs through April 15th. For more information visit metkc.org.