You've heard the old cliché: This play will make you laugh; it will make you cry.
In "Lone Star Spirits," playwright Josh Tobiessen accomplishes this daily double within the span of 15 seconds. Coming at the evening's denouement, it is the neatest trick in this breezy script, which opened Saturday at the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis.
Tobiessen sets his 80-minute comedy in a dusty, ramshackle Texas roadhouse owned by Walter, an equally dusty and ramshackle proprietor. Walter is by turns easygoing, ornery, wise and impulsive — but consistently in awe of the ghosts who inhabit his joint and his town.
Ten directors could cast this play, and provided they all had brains in their heads, 10 of them would choose Terry Hempleman to play Walter. He's an amiable cactus, lean and handsome with the patina of age and full of a twangy sense of humor.
Walter is wearing a necktie on this bobtail of a Friday evening, and he even plugged three air fresheners into one socket, portents of a big event that even the dull-witted Drew can sniff out. Nate Cheeseman plays this lank strap of low-IQ beefsteak with a loose, nonthreatening arrogance.
And indeed, Walter's daughter, Marley, is coming all the way from Austin to visit dad and bring with her both her boyfriend, Ben, and a portentous note for Walter. That note, as you might guess, stirs the dramatic cocktail.
Tobiessen's play is facile, a bit familiar, but in Sarah Rasmussen's crackling production — sharply and smartly observed in so many moments — it is well worth our time.
The playwright's ear and eye for character (albeit stereotypes) are both well-tuned (with an assist from designer Sarah Bahr). John Catron's Ben is a hopeless hipster — a Yankee from Connecticut who drives a Volvo, wears suspenders, rolls up his pants and is thoroughly awed by the tumbleweed charm of this town.
Christian Bardin is Jessica, a gum-chomping local gal who never left town and grinds her words like they were grits. She is antic — maybe a bit too much on occasion? — and keeps the play lubricated.
The sweetest revelation in this production is Thallis Santesteban's Marley. This is the girl who left after high school, who escaped the dust and booze that have kept Drew — who constantly relives his prep football fame — and Jessica captive.
Santesteban has that rare gift to mix a vulnerable spirit with confidence, emotional resonance with quietude.
She enters the drama almost timid, suffers politely the craziness of the other characters (which can get a little "Three Stooges") and then reveals a sense of mission wrought from hard steel.
Santesteban makes this Marley's play in a very unassuming way. Which is a neat trick in itself.
Graydon Royce is a longtime Star Tribune theater critic. He can be reached at email@example.com.