“Sneaky Ole Time” Reviewed by Dan Berkowitz

The good news is that if you’re a fan of country music, chances are good you’ll love Sneaky Ole Time. The better news is that even if you’re not a fan – even if you can’t stand it – there’s enough in Sneaky Ole Time to keep you charmed, entertained, and perhaps even a bit perplexed (in a good way).

With a book by Stephen Mazur, music and lyrics by Paul Overstreet, and directed by Mike Myers, Sneaky Ole Time opens in a dive bar in Tennessee with its jukebox on the fritz. Don’t worry: the jukebox can’t play, but the cast will break into song and dance without it.

It’s the middle of the afternoon, and the patrons gathered to drink are about what you’d expect in the middle of the afternoon at a dive bar in the boonies: Red (Robert Craighead), a sour-faced guy trying to read the paper; Lucky (Ken Korpi), a would-be stud who figured out the perfect pick-up line years ago, and uses it on every woman he meets in hopes that someday it might actually work; Sheila (Nina Brissey), a woman who, though young, looks as if she’s been through the wringer; and The Old Man (Dave Florek), an… um… old man who’s definitely been through the wringer, and in his case the wringer sends him on more trips to the loo than anyone in history.

They’re being tended to by Janine (Amy Motta), the pretty, down-to-earth bartender, as she also attempts to train Lexi (Nicole Olney), her seemingly ditzy young apprentice barkeep, all the while keeping an eye on the Repairman (Chip Bolcik), a gent with an Eastern European accent who appears unable to figure out exactly what’s wrong with the jukebox – or to tell time.

Things are meanderin’ along jes’ lahk you’d think they would on a lazy afternoon when suddenly, there’s a powerful-loud screeching sound, then a crash, from outside. A young biker, Jack (Alexander Hitzig), has crashed his motorcycle and, while only minimally injured, he’s frantic to get the bike fixed and get back on the road.

‘Cause, y’see, Jack is on the road back from having seen his girlfriend Maggie (Lara Jones – we meet her in Act Two). Or maybe not. Jack is a musician, and we eventually find out that, even though there’s an engagement ring in his guitar case that he was planning to give Maggie, he’s had second thoughts about asking her to be his wife because, well, the life of a musician ain’t too steady, and don’t she deserve more?

Okay, you think, this story’s going to be about whether or not Jack is going to be with the love of his life. And you’d be right. But before we get there, there’s a little twist.

Actually, it’s a pretty big twist: when Jack gets the phone call from the garage that his bike is ready, he takes out his credit card and says his name. At which Lucky protests this biker must have stolen his credit card, because that’s his name. Before anyone can get another word in, Red explodes it’s his name too!

A comparison of the three guys’ drivers’ licenses indicates they were all born on the same day. And suddenly we’ve gone from honky-tonk Tennessee to the Twilight Zone, and in fact the act ends with the show’s best number, a rompin’, stompin’ sci-fi-cum-country rouser called “Country Twilight Zone.”

Seems some sort of time-space warp continuum yada yada – helpfully explained by Lexi, who turns out to be an Albert Einstein in Daisy Dukes – has brought three iterations of one man together, as he wrestles over the decision whether to marry Maggie. His choice will affect not only him, here and now, but also the other two facets of his personality.

Best not to dwell on the logic of it too much, as it might give you a headache. Better simply to say “Yup, sure” and enjoy the machinations which ensue. Needless to say, everything turns out okay in the end – it’s a country musical, not a blues musical – and the surprisingly moving denouement is justly earned.

The show isn’t perfect: after a rousing Act One, Act Two spends much too much time on a series of melancholy, if not self-pitying, songs, as characters explore the inner workings of their psyches – a bit of a drag, frankly. The Repairman is, at best, a tangential character, and while the appealing Mr. Bolcik wrings what laughs he can out of the part, we can’t help wondering in the end why the hell he’s there. The few scenes set outside the bar suffer from the fact that – this being small theatre in LA – they still have to take place on the bar set. And speaking of the set, it’s been designed so that the bar is at the far end of the stage; given the curious topography of the Ruskin space, the director’s choice to stage most of the action there means a good deal of the audience has to spend much of the evening with heads turned far to the right – I left with a distinct crick in my neck.

But these are quibbles, and the talented and attractive performers, toe-tapping music, and intriguing story will have you leaving the theatre with a smile (even if you have a crick in yer neck too…)

Sneaky Ole Time
Music & Lyrics by Paul Overstreet
Book by Stephen Mazur
Developed and Directed by Michael Myers
Musical Director Cliff Wagner

Through September 19

Ruskin Group Theatre
3000 Airport Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Tickets: 310-397-3244 or www.ruskingrouptheatre.com


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