The Essential Straight & Narrow: In brief
The Mad Ones go nuts in a collaboratively created piece that draws on 1970s nostalgia, rock music and the mythos of the American Southwest. Lila Neugebauer directs.
The Essential Straight & Narrow: Review by Helen Shaw
No one does period like the Mad Ones (The Tremendous Tremendous), the nostalgia-drunk ensemble behind the country & western heartbreaker The Essential Straight & Narrow. Cinematic detail makes us see designer Laura Jellinek’s slice of ’70s New Mexico motel room through a filter; even the air has the graininess of film. Mood, not plot, is the goal: Soaked deep into the shag carpet is painful regret. The titular folk trio has gotten sidelined here by crises minor (a busted axle) and major—a busted affair between singers Jo (Stephanie Wright Thompson) and Graham (Joe Curnutte, wearing Kris Kristofferson’s beard).
This night haunts Jo, and we see her toggle between two moments in time: the band’s whiskey-colored Halloween, spent with sweet transvestite Debbie (Marc Bovino), and Jo’s brighter, lonelier future. There’s a party straight out of Fellini, a Cassavetes hangdog vibe, a pair of jeans borrowed from Jane Fonda. The band jams briefly, and though you’ll keep reminding yourself that there never was any such group, you’ll miss it keenly. I still hope they get back together. Maybe they’ll tour?—Theater review by Helen Shaw
THE BOTTOM LINE The Mad Ones luxuriate in retro melancholy.