Though billed as two short plays, Little Fish Theatre Co.'s productions of Lone Starand Laundry & Bourbonare more like a loosely linked full-length taking place on the same day in 1975 in the same small Texas town and concerning a set of closely connected characters.
Laundry & Bourbon happens on a hotter-than-a-jalapeño day in the sleepy town of Maynard; the only thing a reasonable soul can do is get drunk and fold laundry. Elizabeth (Suzanne Dean) is clearly upset, and it doesn't take long for her friend Hattie (Courtney Weber) to find out why: Elizabeth's husband, Roy, has been gone for two days. Elizabeth has stuck by her high school sweetheart despite (or maybe because of) all of his carrying on, but ever since his return from Vietnam two years previous, she has found it increasingly hard to live with the lost and frustrated man he has become. A bored housewife saddled with three unruly kids and a dependable but dull husband, Hattie is particularly ill-equipped to help.
Eldon Cline's direction displays the virtues of simplicity. Wisely eschewing showy theatrics, Cline focuses on the emotional ambiguities in James McClure's text, aided by a pair of wonderfully complementary performances from Dean (whose subtly nuanced work perfectly captures Elizabeth's volatile mix of desire and frustration) and Weber (who finds a touching note of heartache beneath Hattie's wildly comic exterior).
Somewhat less successful is the evening's first production, Lone Star. Set behind Angels Bar, the play follows a night in the life of Elizabeth's husband, the elusive Roy (Stephen Allman). Armed with a big bag of comfort food and a nearly endless supply of Lone Star beer, Roy is trying desperately to hold on to an idyllic past when the measure of a man was how much action he could get in the back of his pink 1959 convertible Thunderbird.
Of course, it takes a lot of work to get back home again, and Roy takes out his frustrations on his good-hearted if slow-witted brother Ray (Will Simmons) and the even-slower-witted Cletis (Jonathan Engel), the manager of a local appliance store who has idolized Roy since they were children. Envious of Roy's legendary prowess with women, Cletis fixates on the aforementioned T-bird as the secret of his success, setting the stage for a life-altering epiphany for Roy.
By the order of these plays, Cline seems to opt for making a thematic statement over linear logic. The evening ends on a melancholy note, with Elizabeth alone and facing an uncertain future, contemplating the serious changes at work in her life. All in all, it's an appropriate image for our time.
Lone Star and Laundry & Bourbon at the Little Fish Theatre Co., 455 Sixth St., San Pedro, (310) 512-6030. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. Through Sept. 28. $12.