Los Angeles Theater Review: HONKY TONK LAUNDRY (Hudson Mainstage Theatre in Hollywood)

by Samuel Garza Bernstein on August 12, 2017

in Theater-Los Angeles

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THE HARDEST WORKING GALS IN SHOW BUSINESS

One thing is clear: If Bets Malone and Misty Cotton ever choose to sell themselves as an actual country music recording duo, they will be a smash. The intensity and quality of the singing is wonderful. Their blend is perfect, haunting and smooth, most notably on “Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love,” and “Long Time Gone.” Even when one goes the teensiest bit flat, the other balances it out by going the teensiest bit sharp, creating a sound that to my ears could take Nashville by storm.

The two women are the only performers in Roger Bean’s Honky Tonk Laundry, an agreeable jukebox musical with more hits than you can shake a stick at; songs made famous by Reba McEntire, the Dixie Chicks, Loretta Lynn, Dolly, Tammy Wynette, and Martina McBride, to name a few. Bean has written a book that uses the ladies’ romantic travails as a means of connecting the songs. Malone is Lana Mae Hopkins, the wisecracking, bleach-sniffing owner of the Wishy-Washy Washateria, who once dreamed of being a country singing star. Cotton is Katie Lane Murphy, Lana Mae’s volatile, often-medicated new-hire, who may or may not be completely out of her mind.

Malone is a champion of motor-mouth talk, quick with a joke, but honest and wistful when she sings of her family and her lost dreams. Cotton can project a completely still, almost Noh-like mask of tragedy and comedy at the same time. She goes from sweet to demented in a flash, and her entrance is both scary and hilarious.

As both writer and director, Bean’s inestimable skills are readily apparent. His dialogue is snappy, fun, fresh, and creative. Lana Mae labels a customer who is likely a prostitute “morally flexible,” and describes her husband Earl as a Two-Fer, “Good looks and a pick-up truck that’s all one color.” When Katy’s behavior goes off the rails, she quips, “I don’t understand your specific kind of crazy, but I admire your commitment to it,” and, one of my favorite lines, “Never underestimate the power of a pissed off woman on pharmaceuticals.”

The staging and direction are enormously effective and never static. Malone and Cotton are in constant motion on the small stage, but the movement feels natural and organic. Small gestures and authentic behaviors coexist happily with larger musical moments. At every turn, Bean and choreographer James Vasquez make the show better than it has to be. The audience is promised a “Foot Stompin’, Hand Clappin’, Honky Tonk Good Time!” and they get it. But they also get attention to detail and a vision that’s very specific. Don’t let the down-hominess fool you. These artists and technicians are musical theater professionals doing what they do best.

Renatta Lloyd, Byron Batista, and Perry Steele Patton get the costumes, wigs, and makeup just right. Katy’s hair in the second act is a triumph of tackiness. Her bouffant is a different shade of red than the fall of curls attached behind it, and one curler remains slightly visible. It’s funny, but it stops short of caricature. And Cricket S. Myers’ sound design is deft and balanced.

A couple of quibbles: Lana Mae destroys Earl’s clothes before she admits to herself and to Katy that he’s cheating; all the laundry supply props are small bottles and sprayers. (If you own a laundromat, you buy in bulk); and the show is a bit long. Attention and interest never flag, but I can imagine it might in other productions with performers not quite as gifted as Malone and Cotton.

photos by Michael Lamont

Honky Tonk Laundry
Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood
Fri and Sat at 8; Sun at 3 & 7
ends on September 17, 2017 EXTENDED to October 1, 2017
for tickets, call 323.960.7773 or visit Plays411
for more info, visit Honky Tonk Laundry

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Sheri Pedigo September 12, 2017 at 10:42 pm

Incredible show and cast (these gals knocked it out of the park!), and very well written. It had me crying, laughing and waiting for the next surprise. Simply one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time. A must see especially if you love Country music.

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