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The Doyle and Debbie Show at Royal George Theatre | Theater review

A Nashville satire’s goofy specificity earns big laughs.

Photograph: Doug Blemker
The Doyle and Debbie Show

“I believe in the three r s,” says Debbie (Jenny Littleton) in the spoken-interlude portion of the mock anthem “For the Children.” “R children rr future.” In Debbie’s Tennessee-mountain twang, of course, this goofy-smart our-are gag sounds just right—and vitally, Littleton sells it with the utmost conviction. That seriousness of satire drives The Doyle and Debbie Show, a sort of live mockumentary on loan from Nashville, where it’s a long-running hit.

Doyle (Bruce Arntson) is a washed-up vendor of old-school country music, a small-time aspirant to the Grand Ole Opry who’s on his third Debbie. His latest partner, who we’re told is making her Nashville debut this evening, is a small-town single mother Doyle discovered singing in a VFW hall. Together with their sidekick and accompanist, Buddy (Matthew Carlton), they regale us with Doyle’s greatest hits: masterful parody songs with titles like “Barefoot and Pregnant” and “When You’re Screwing Other Women (Think of Me).”

The songs lovingly and hilariously skewer the tropes of the genre, and the performers render them with precision. Arntson delivers an expert rendition of the sequined-showman archetype, while Littleton shows off impressive vocal mimicry, evoking songstresses from Dolly Parton to Tammy Wynette. Scenic designer Kevin Depinet has done a crackerjack job of transforming the Royal George’s cabaret space into a dingy, yellowed country & western dive reminiscent of the real-life Station Inn, the show’s Nashville home. The show goes off the rails a bit in an overreaching supernatural sequence near the end, but for the most part it milks hearty laughs from solid satire and committed character work.

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