This review of Loveless Texas at The Sheen Center was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Music & Lyrics by Henry Aronson
Libretto & Direction by Cailin Heffernan
Scenic Design by Evan Hill
Costume Design by Cheryl McCarron
Lighting Design by Michael O'Connor
Sound Design by Ian Wehrle
Stage Managed by Marci Skolnick
The Sheen Center
18 Bleecker Street
New York, New York 10012
Loveless Texas took an interesting twist on Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost and made for a generally entertaining musical. For most of the first half of the play, the tension built and the songs, written and composed by Henry Aronson, were fun and often catchy. A few missteps in the script, however, kept this uplifting tale from reaching the level of a virtuoso.
The biggest issues with this modern restructuring of Shakespeare's classic were that it didn't take a big enough step away from the original in the over-arching plot. It became too predictable while creating too many subplots which became mired in unnecessary detail. Almost every character in the cast of twelve actors had their own arch. This not only limited the pace of the first act, but it bogged down the second act as well with corny serendipity. Long story short, all the characters fell in love with a counterpart from a competing ranch in 1930s Texas. One of the largest issues with this was the fact that almost every actor had a song to sing. While the lyrics, were in my opinion, clever, they were mostly songs about death and devils and love. Potentially quality subjects for a comedy, but even the cast members who could execute their material better than others heard only a little bit of laughter and appreciation from the audience. There are two possible reasons for this. The first being that it didn't seem like Loveless Texas focused on the comedy. It seemed to be much more focused on a tense relationship between the mature, "King Navarre," and his immature, younger brother, Berowne Navarre, and how the relationship between the two characters developed. The second was that the audience had to strain to hear many of the songs over a live band that performed in the corner. The live band was a welcome presence but it was a little too loud at times for the actors to overcome.
Despite these limitations, I still enjoyed this musical. I felt like Darren Ritchie as King and Joe Joseph as Berowne did a fabulous job. Their solid performances helped to create palpable tension as the two butted heads on life philosophy. King Navarre owned a ranch in Texas at the onset of the Great Depression and had promised to sell an oil-strike to a rancher in Louisiana named Leroy Beausoleil. Leroy had apparently come upon the information that the strike was about to hit pay-dirt while King Navarre believed it was about to run dry. Before the land was officially sold, the oil reserve boons and King Navarre refuses to sell. After tracking down his younger brother, Berowne, who had been gallivanting with his two buddies, Duke (Colin Barkell) and Bubba (Brett Benowitz), causing trouble all over the continent and parts of Europe, King coerces them to sign an agreement to work on his property under three conditions: no drinking, gambling, or womanizing. Berowne reluctantly agrees (since King threatened to cut off payments from his trust fund), but then suddenly takes the high road on the property issue arguing basically that all the moral authority in the world doesn't matter if King is not a man of his word. King points out that Berowne doesn't understand taking responsibility, and frankly, as a viewer, I was hooked.
King Navarre's plans are complicated when Leroy's daughter, LaReine Beausoleil (Trisha Jeffrey) arrives in Texas to attempt to claim her land accompanied by three women, friends of hers, who have some history with Berowne and his companions. Admittedly, things move a little too fast here as love is in the air. The characters on King's ranch are all men, and they quite quickly find counterparts on the Louisiana side to fall in love with including the stodgy, woman-scorned King Navarre, who falls for LaReine after barely a word passing between them. King (Darren Ritchie) sings an intriguing solo number about choosing between business and his heart, and as the first act closes, he makes his choice - business - by interrupting the other lovebirds during the most comedic sequence of the play, a local dance that Berowne and his companions sneaked off to in bad disguises so that they could check in on their women. As this confrontation comes to a close, LaReine learns her father has died. King attempts an apology, but LaReine and her party leave for Louisiana immediately.
The build-up went for naught as the remainder of the play becomes song after song wrapping up the subplots. The main important part of this second act comes when Berowne and King argue, in song, about a compromise Berowne suggests. It is unclear what King will choose, but later, at a wedding between Duke Dumaine (one of Berowne's companions, Colin Barkell) and Kathy Bridge (one of LaReine's, Annette Navarro), King surprises everyone by offering the full deal to Berowne. At the wedding, everyone finds their love except for Berowne and Rosaline. For some reason, Rosaline is miffed after not receiving a formal response to a letter she wrote pleading for Berowne to stand up to his brother. He stood up to his brother, but apparently, she needed it in writing. A year later, she holds up his poker game disguised as a seldom mentioned minor character who goes by the name of the Cowgirl Bandit. When she reveals her identity, the two sing to each other about their love in a lovely duet. Amanda Lea Lavergne as Rosaline was one of the brightest spots of the cast along with Bligh Voth as Maria Broussard.
Ultimately, the happy ending and the positive messages in the songs made for an enjoyable show. The expectations seemed to be very high based on the subject matter, and the high quality of the set design and costumes. Not to mention the inclusion of a live band. However, even from the third row, the difficulty in making out all the lines in each song became a serious concern. I'd suggest focusing the plot on the four main characters and cutting solo numbers by side characters that didn't greatly affect the dynamic of the play. Regardless, the show remained a pleasure to watch. For tickets ($30 for September 6-10 and $40 for September 12-24), go to https://sheencenter.org/shows/loveless/ or call 212-925-2812.