Jungle’s 'Lone Star Spirits' is as inviting as a friendly small-town bar

William Clark

William Clark

A song plays during the curtain call for Lone Star Spirits: Lyle Lovett’s “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas),” with its chorus that concludes, “Texas wants you anyway.” It’s an apt kicker for this production, in which a cast of Minnesotans does a credible job of virtually relocating the Jungle Theater to the other end of I-35.

The title of the play — written by Minneapolis’ Josh Tobiessen, now having its regional premiere after winning raves Off-Broadway last year — refers to a few different things, and one of them is the small-town Texas liquor store where the action unfolds.

The onstage store serves as a working drink concession before the show begins, and it’s well worth paying a visit, not just for the libation but also to take an up-close look at the incredible set by Sarah Bahr. In the tradition of the hyper-realistic sets that founding artistic director Bain Boehlke made a Jungle trademark, Bahr’s work has such depth and detail that you’ll feel like you could step right out the door and Instagram a tumbleweed (as one of the characters later does).

The sleepy store is run by Walter (Terry Hempleman), who on this particular day is wearing a necktie to look nice for his adult daughter Marley (Thallis Santesteban). She’s in from Austin, paying a visit to announce her engagement to Ben (John Catron), who’s just started an online business selling accessories to urban men who want a veneer of rustic authenticity.

Ben, who is gentrification personified, inspires amused ridicule from Marley’s former schoolmates Jessica (Christian Bardin) and Drew (Nate Cheeseman). As the sun sets on Lone Star Spirits, the five have a series of comic collisions in the store’s two aisles; eventually Marley reveals a second, bittersweet, reason for her homecoming.

In just 90 minutes, Tobiessen gets a lot of mileage from these characters, detailing their lives with generous affection even as he pokes fun at their foibles. Director Sarah Rasmussen has assembled a dynamite ensemble of actors who revel in these juicy roles, and every laugh line lands, including a big one at the end involving a plot twist that will have you appreciating the importance of lighting design. (Credit there goes to Barry Browning.)

Once again, Rasmussen displays a sure instinct for how to use the Jungle’s cozy confines, where both comedy and drama can thrive. The material toes the line of stale stereotypes, but between Tobiessen’s carefully honed script and Rasmussen’s kindhearted production, we find ourselves laughing with — not just at — the fading gridiron hero (Cheeseman), the struggling single mother (Bardin), and the out-of-touch city boy (Catron).

Hempleman and Santesteban hold it all together, in well-paired performances that evoke a familiar, but nonetheless poignant, generational tension. By the time the show ends with a perfectly executed supernatural flourish, you may well be tempted to buy another ticket just so you can return to the warm, slightly wacky world of Lone Star Spirits.

Lone Star Spirits
Jungle Theater
2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
612-822-7063; through May 7