Mainers love country music and the Pine Tree State is home to singers talented enough to give joyous and gut-wrenching interpretations of the best of the genre. So why does the Penobscot Theatre Company insist on turning to the insipid work of Roger Bean and similar jukebox playwrights to showcase this beloved music?
Fine performances, experienced musicians and excellent production values can’t save “Honky Tonk Laundry” from its nonsensical script. When the laundromat is turned into a Grand Ole Opry-esque set in the second act, discerning theatergoers wondered, “Why didn’t they just do that instead?”
But what he excels at, in this musical production and others, is getting the women onstage to sing their hearts out. Varney, who also choreographed the two-woman show, uses all of Tricia A. Hobbs’ set, the Wishy-Washy Washateria, well and has his actresses keep moving, which almost, but not quite, prevents the production from dragging.
Stars Heather Astbury-Libby of Brewer and Laura Hodos of Orlando, Florida, give great performances. Astbury-Libby, as neglected wife Lana Mae, is equally good at belting out the hurt feelings exposed in Chely Wright’s “Jezebel” as she is at the sweet sentimentality woven into Terri Clark’s “Smile.” As she’s proven time and again in “The Wonderettes” and other musicals, there’s not a popular song genre Astbury-Libby can’t sing.