Christine Dolen

Small-town Texas life goes under the microscope in Alliance Theatre Lab’s summer show

James McLure’s companion one-act plays Lone Star and Laundry and Bourbon were first paired in 1980 at the Princeton-based McCarter Theatre, which linked the two under the title 1959 Pink Thunderbird. That makes sense, as the convertible in question is beloved by a Vietnam veteran named Roy, even as the flashy car and its owner bedevil Roy’s sad wife Elizabeth.

Alliance Theatre Lab has chosen the plays for its start-of-summer production at the Main Street Playhouse in Miami Lakes. Comedies with dark undertones, the pieces provide three juicy roles for women (in Laundry and Bourbon), three more for men ( Lone Star). Directors Adalberto J. Acevedo and Juan Carlos Besares mine both scripts for lots of laughs, though if the production were judged as an artistic battle of the sexes, the gals would be declared the winners by a mile.

Laundry and Bourbon comes first, and it has to because of a plot point involving Roy’s chick-magnet car. Too bad, since it’s a better and funnier play.

Set on a scorching 1975 day in tiny Maynard, Texas, Laundry and Bourbon is a study in the compromises, sacrifices and little pleasures of small-town life for a trio of women.

With her air conditioner broken on a sweltering day, Elizabeth (an appealingly melancholy Gladys Ramirez) is sitting in the backyard of her little house, listlessly getting ready to fold laundry and wondering where her wandering husband might be. Boisterous Hattie (Breeza Zeller) arrives for a visit, having dumped her rambunctious children at her mother-in-law’s so she can take a break from corralling her kiddies.

The two gossip, fold clothes and try to keep cool by downing bourbon-laced colas, further loosening their tongues. Fireworks start when Amy Lee (Andrea Bovino), a woman Hattie loathes, arrives bearing an air conditioner filter and bad news for Elizabeth. As the tension cranks up between Bovino’s snooty gal and Zeller’s opinionated one, the play and Zeller — never better than in Laundry and Bourbon — just get more hilarious.

Lone Star takes place out back of a little honky tonk, with wild-man Roy (Daniel Nieves) drunkenly trying to impart life lessons to his younger brother Ray (Kristian Bikic). Their conversation gets interrupted by Amy Lee’s husband Cletis (Juan Gamero), a dorky dude who has some really bad news he’s afraid to share with Roy. With good reason.

Though it’s funny, Lone Star is a darker play than Laundry and Bourbon, literally because it’s set at nighttime (lighting designer Howard Ferré conjures scorching sun for the gals, shadowy night for the guys) and thematically because the men are not-so-good-ol’-boys.

Roy, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, tries to keep his demons at bay with booze and a series of flings. Nieves plays him as a crude bully nostalgic for the days when he was the dreamiest thing in Maynard. Bikic’s long-suffering Ray is more likeable until he makes an out-of-the-blue confession. As Cletis, Gamero is a sweaty sight gag.

Doubling as the set designer, Acevedo has come up with a detailed little house for Elizabeth that gets flipped around at intermission to become the back of the Lone Star bar. Ferré’s fine sound design keeps the mid-’70s music (some country, some rock) flowing, to the nostalgic delight of the Baby Boomers in the all-ages crowd.

Between the laughs, Lone Star and Laundry and Bourbon are laced with sexism, most annoyingly in the relationship of womanizing Roy and stand-by-your-man Elizabeth. You’d like to think we’ve come a long way since McLure wrote the plays, but check your Facebook news feed and you’ll see we haven’t. Nonetheless, the world McLure evokes in the one-acts is completely believable in terms of time, place and character. And Zeller’s performance is as deftly funny as comedic acting gets.