Theater Review: In Steven Walters’ New Play, Pluck the Day, Comedy Trumps Substance

Pluck the Day, a rewrite of an original script by Second Thought Theatre’s co-artistic director, Steven Walters, is a solid skeleton of a play. There is a setting (a small, backwards town in West Texas), actors (mostly playing paper-thin stereotypes), a modicum of relationship drama masquerading as plot. But everything feels incidental to the main joke— Duck (Clay Yokum, a real gem), the pitiable redneck who makes for the biggest cartoon of all. The rest just act as a foil for his beer drinking, beer-gut rubbing antics, giving him a chance to spew his special brand of wit and wisdom, punctuated by “my daddy always said” and peppered with deliberate mispronunciations and malapropisms.

To set the mood, we’re treated to an original song by Dallas musician Greg Shroeder, playing the otherwise monosyllabic Merle. It sounded nice, but Shroeder mumbled his way through the lyrics. His incoherence might have been in character, but it seems like a waste. Merle, Bill (Chris LaBove), and Duck are hanging out on a shabby porch earlyish (10 a.m.) on a Sunday morning. Merle’s snoozing, Bill’s reading the newspaper, and Duck’s shotgunning beers and attempting to do a crossword. Their other friend, Fred (Mike Schraeder), has been missing for 24 hours, eating too much peyote and talking to the cacti. Again.

As amusing as the premise sounds, we’re off to a bit of a slow, talky start. But once Yocum gets warmed up, he is hilarious, a mesmerizing wreck of a man who has an inkling that he might be a loser but can’t really bring himself to actually believe it. In him, Walters’ talent for comedy and caricature shines. The other characters exist only to wind him up or slow him down. April (Jenny Ledel), the lone female, is supposed to act as some sort of savior. But she’s a shell, the boy fantasy of an attractive yet maternal female who brings everyone lunch but is still sassy enough to tell you to get your own damn plate. She’s also pretty boring. Every time she opened her mouth (which, admittedly, wasn’t that much), I wished she’d shut up so Duck could keep spitballing. So much for women’s lib.

Pluck doesn’t encourage or aspire for depth, and the hollowness of the slightly worn out, predictable tale is trumped by the entertainment factor. In an otherwise surface, serviceable production (direction, set, and costumes are by Matthew Gray, with lights by Aaron Johansen), Yocum is the real reason to see this play. His Duck will make you laugh, but even he won’t make you think too much. As Duck says, “queso sera.” Not everything must.

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