Country That Still Ain't Cool

You're no doubt wonderingwhy an official emissary of the Weekly, the ultimate arbiter of all that's hip, relevant and important, would bother reviewing Always . . . Patsy Cline, a musical based on the songs of a country singer who died in 1963. Well, there was nothing else going on last weekend. No, check that: Patsy Cline was more than a very talented country singer—she was influential in style and in blazing a trail for women in country and, by extension, popular music and, by extension, popular culture. Her death in 1963 at the age of 30 assured her of the Kennedy Effect (or maybe that's the Martin Luther King Jr. Effect, the James Dean Effect, the Mozart Effect or the Jesus Effect), of potentiality truncated, of genius cut short: her aura (see it glow!) throbs more brightly than that of any other country performer of her era.

But check at the door any biographical curiosity you may have had about Cline the person or even the performer. Always . . . Patsy Clineincludes 20 Cline songs, but this is more a story about Louise Seger, a diehard Cline fan who idolizes the singer, meets her one night before a gig, and starts up a close friendship.

And that's the problem with Ted Swindley's play. It's stupid. Who cares about Patsy Cline drinking coffee at some starry-eyed fan's home the morning after a big gig in Dallas? Nobody but the already converted. Swindley gives the rest of us—Clineless retards —nothing about Cline, other than the fairly predictable fact of country-music life that her husband was a bastard, she adored her children, and she had a lot of hit records.

But, Jesus, do we learn a lot about Louise. She's a wisecracking, gay divorcee who thinks all men are pigs. She's cocky, headstrong and tries really hard to be really, really funny. Sometimes she is. But mostly, she's as obnoxious as your mom's coffee buddies.

It doesn't help that the actor playing Louise, Misty Rowe, also directs this show. An outside pair of eyes may have succeeded in curbing some of Rowe's exuberance. She is everywhere in this play, mugging here, stealing focus there, jumping on the piano stage right, dragging people out of the audience and tossing out hammy comedy bit after comedy bit. I'm not intimate with Swindley's play, but I've gotta believe that Rowe is taking ample license, making this play far more about her character than Cline's. That would be okay if Louise were an interesting character, but she's not. She's just annoying, and Rowe, while energetic and talented, tries so hard that, I must confess, I began hating her in the second act. And that made me sad. Because I'm sure she's a wonderful, beautiful person. But I just wanted her . . . off . . . that . . . stage.

Cindy Summers' Cline has a sweet head voice but doesn't project the diaphragm strength required of Cline's more heartbreaking ballads. She's also a little stiff, a kind of Patsy Cline on Quaaludes, which, compared to the fact that Rowe's Louise plays like Barbara Mandrell on meth, further diminishes Cline's role in this play ostensibly about Cline.

Add to this the fact that the six-piece country-and-western band was turned down so low that all of the seniors in the joint had to jack up their hearing aids to 11, creating—no kidding—a high-pitched whine that marred the show's music throughout, and you get an experience that can be summed up in one word. I'm just not sure what that word is. But I know it wouldn't be nice.

Always . . . Patsy Cline at the Fullerton Civic Light Opera at the Plummer Auditorium, 201 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton, (714) 526-3832. Opens Fri. thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Through July 30. $15-$36.
 
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