A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline long on talent, short on plot
By Dean Regan. Directed by Shane Snow. An Arts Club Theatre production. At the Granville Island Stage on Wednesday, June 22. Continues until July 30
Thank God there’s an Act 2, because there sure as hell isn’t an Act 1. And even when the good stuff arrives in the second half, it works as a musical concert; there’s virtually no satisfying theatricality in the entire evening.
Dean Regan takes a writing credit for this show, but in my view, that’s pushing it. By all accounts, country star Patsy Cline was a fascinating woman, and her tumultuous relationships poured over into her hurtin’ music. But Regan has the DJ who narrates Cline’s story reduce the singer’s complicated personal life to 10 words—“After a somewhat stormy first marriage and a passionate second”—and that’s all we get. Cline introduces her band, a solid five-piece ensemble under the direction of Nico Rhodes, but Regan allows her zero dramatic interaction. In fact, there are no scenes as such in A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline, although Kevin James, who plays the DJ, also takes on other characters to deliver some thuddingly unfunny standup routines. Fortunately, James is a charming performer and he’s a lot smarter than the material, so that staunches the bleeding.
Rather than attempting a meaningful exploration of Cline’s artistry, Regan delivers a mindless, formulaic pastiche, accented by radio commercials for Ajax and Mr. Clean, with a teensy bit of news about Cuba thrown in for historical context. There’s no plot to speak of, just a hastily sketched rise to fame followed by—as I think everyone knows—Cline’s sudden death. I would have thought that emotionally wrenching development would be theatrically flameproof, but this production torches it. In director Shane Snow’s staging, Cline comes back as a cowgirl angel with fringe for wings, and as she belts out a reprise of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee”, the bit of stage she’s standing on turns into an elevator. It’s so hokey I’m surprised they didn’t fly her.
And it would have been nice to have had the five-dollar set instead of the vacant three-dollar barn that Ted Roberts delivers.
Fortunately, Cline immortalized some terrific songs, and Sara-Jeanne Hosie, who takes the role here, can sing ’em. Like Cline, Hosie knows how to tell a story in music, so when we hit the Act 2 goldmine of Cline’s best tunes—including “Just a Closer Walk With Thee”, “She’s Got You”, “Back in Baby’s Arms”, “I Fall to Pieces”, and “Crazy”—it’s a pleasure to sit back and listen. Hosie’s tone is pure, her voice is powerful, she’s got her very own version of Cline’s suppressed sob, and you get the feeling that she knows what she’s singing about.
Hosie is an excellent performer—she can act as well as vocalize—and she deserves a better showcase, just as Cline’s artistry deserves a more intelligent exploration.