Revenge, Laughs Served on the Rocks in Centre Stage’s ‘Lincoln Towing’

lincoln towingWhen six people find themselves trapped in a Chicago bar during a torrential rainstorm, anything can happen. And it certainly does in the hilarious new comedy “The Night We Bombed Lincoln Towing,” which kicked-off Centre Stage’s 2015-16 Fringe Series Tuesday night.

This play by Dallas-based playwright and stand-up comedian Steven Young took the top prize at Centre’s Stage 2014 New Play Festival and is getting its South Carolina premiere here in Greenville.

The action takes place in a rundown Windy City drinking hole run by Stan (Elizabeth Colson). Still wearing an army fatigue jacket and dog tags, Stan (short for Stanna) is an Iraq-war veteran and as we later discover, an injured one. In between serving her only patron, a very drunk middle-aged Ed Janicowski (Trevor Furlong), she is studying for an Econ midterm.

To say Ed is down-trodden would be an injustice. He house was just foreclosed on earlier that day. He has lost his job, wife and kids and he can’t even pay his $83 bar tab, which Stan begrudgingly forgives as long as he agrees to leave the bar that she is about to close early since there are no customers.

But stragglers begin to trickle into the bar seeking shelter until the storm passes.

Darwin (LeRoy Kennedy), the impeccably-dressed lawyer and Northwestern valedictorian, and his rich Caucasian girlfriend, Lilly (Jennifer Alynn-Perri), in a hot, scarlet skin-tight dress come in. Darwin is uptight and conceited and interjects his academic accolades and threats to sue throughout the play.

Flo (the tiny Kim Granner) pops in the bar just to use the restroom on her way back to Peoria. Flo is a spitfire in a moo-moo and carries around a shoebox of dismembered dolls and the “Flo” doll crafted in her own image replete with a tiny frying pan.

And finally, we meet the most flamboyant character of all: DMZ, the dynamite Brian Reeder, who recently appeared in Centre Stage’s “A Time to Kill.” DMZ, as in De-Militarized Zone, is a crazy and horny British punk-rocker that moments before just wrapped up a gig with his band called the Demonic Ibsens. He proceeds to entertain the bar’s inhabitants with punk opera versions of the Norwegian playwright’s A Doll’s House” with a revised ending and “Singin’ In the Rain.”

But one-by-one the patrons discover that their vehicles (including a $250,000 Lamborghini) have been hauled away by Chicago’s Lincoln Towing and is going cost $220 to retrieve. And anyone that’s ever lived in a big city knows how unscrupulous tow companies are and how impossible it is to get a taxi in a rainstorm.

In the past, I’ve had friends utilise towing companies such as a towing service new orleans, and I’ve always found them to be respectable and hard working. However, parking in a bay which is not authorised is still a valid reason for being towed – so good on Lincoln Towing for taking away their vehicles.

The night, however, deteriorated from here.

Throw in some beer, Wild Turkey 101 and single malt scotch and the secrets begin pouring out faster than the booze.

We discover Lilly is the boss’s daughter that Darwin is banging and that he did not (and never will) make partner at the law firm because Daddy disapproves of the interracial relationship. Flo is a penniless devout Christian and, even at 4 ft. 11’’ tops, yields the persuasive powers of Goliath when a fight ensues. And DMZ is really a flunky rocker named Myron that teaches music to unruly third graders. And he ain’t even British.

Ed is so desperate that he sticks up the joint and all of its occupants, but is ultimately and easily thwarted by the military-trained Stan, who has been quietly seething and observing the zany antics from behind the bar. Stan is Mr. Young’s most mysterious character and he reserves her backstory for a slow unpeeling in the second act.

She explains her war injury (she limps around the bar with a cane) and unveils her iron exterior to show a broken heart that haunts her more than the purple one she received for her service as a bomb specialist in Iraq. You can see where this is headed.

As the alcohol continues to flow, the group begins to focus their frustrations, hard-knocks and ill-treatment on Lincoln Towing and collectively agree to seek revenge by bombing the tow company.

And along the way the audience is treated to side-splitting antics, clever and sharp dialogue and pristine performances from this cast. Whether it’s Reeder singing lousy lyrics, Kennedy constantly wiping props with a handkerchief, Alynn-Perri unclasping her head bun and swinging her beautiful blonde hair in dizzying whirls like a slutty rocker chick in a “White Snake” video or Granner in a glorious over-the-top speech (actually a prayer), this play is modern and funny.

But nothing tops the image of Furlong mending his bloody nose with tampons sticking out of his nostrils and for about half of act two. And Lilly poses a valid question: “Why is ‘men’ in the word menstruation” when they obviously are clueless about their use?

Evan Harris, whose dramatic and comedic acting chops I had the pleasure of seeing in “A Time to Kill” and The Warehouse Theatre’s recent “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” is making his full-length play directing debut with “Lincoln Towing,” and directed its reading in the 2014 New Play Festival. He has mastery of this material and has staged the action nicely with a barebones set and props and the comedic beats flow organically without fail. And the rain sound effects are used sparingly and gently set the mood just right.

And kudos as well to Jenni Baldwin as assistant director and stage manager.

Young’s premise here duly captures the mob-mentality of human nature. As sober individuals, none of these honest, basically-good citizens would ever contemplate such a wildly-absurd act of terrorism. But as a group, the realm of possibility widens considerably. Nonetheless, the journey to that decision is a delightful one.

Stick around after the Sept. 23 performance for “Pizza With Paul,” a discussion with Director Evan Harris and the cast led by Greenville News arts writer Paul Hyde. Free pizza will be available for all ticket-holders.

 “The Night We Bombed Lincoln Towing” runs tonight and Tuesday & Wednesday, Sept. 22 & 23 at Centre Stage, 501 River St. in Greenville. Tickets are only $15. Call (864)233-6733 or visit www.centrestage.org.

Tickets are still available for the MainStage production of “The Odd Couple” through Sept. 26, Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20-30. Student rush tickets may be available 30 minutes prior to show time for $15 with school ID (based on availability), one ticket per ID.

And certainly don’t miss the 2015 Centre Stage New Play Festival Oct. 4-8 with daytime lectures and workshops and evening staged readings of new plays. All events are FREE!

Sandy Staggs, a Spartanburg native, is Drama Critic and Publisher of Carolina Curtain Call and has been a journalist and arts critic for 20 years with staff positions and/or articles in the San Francisco Examiner, Spartanburg Herald-Journal, San Francisco Bay Guardian, San Francisco Observer, Oakland Tribune, San Mateo County Times and more, as well as an essay in the Hub City Press book “Stars Fell on Spartanburg.”

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