Starting Thursday, Oct. 31., Studio Theater was transformed into a porch and backyard set in the sleepy town of Maynard, Texas circa 1970. At 7:30 p.m. the audience hushed as the stage manager announced this term’s first full production play.
This was James McLure’s one-act “Laundry and Bourbon,” brought to life by director and junior Emily Antoff, who has been directing since the age of 13.
Despite being set in the ’70s, because this is Maynard — a desert town with a population that has only reached 900 even today — it might as well be the 1950s. And on a weathered back porch, freshmen actors Amalia Hertel, Jordan Hurst and Martha Brown enlivened the struggles of three young married women from poor backgrounds in a town with few “eligible” prospects as they deal with children, marriages and the hopes and dreams that pass by.
It was a story that appealed to Antoff because of the deeper issues — motherhood, poverty, PTSD, abortion — gingerly touched upon in its “comic vehicle.”
The tale begins with Hattie (Hurst) finding Elizabeth (Hertel) wistfully pulling laundry off the line and staring off into the desert. She offers to help her fold and the other pours them their first of many bourbons with coke outside on the porch, as the air conditioner is busted. The action that followed kept to a staid but humorous path, with Hurst providing plenty of sass. The two women discuss TV game shows, the nightmares of taking children shopping and why men own so many white T-shirts.
The characters soon slip into recollection of their high school days, when Elizabeth was going with Roy and Hattie went with his best friend Wayne — the wildest and most eligible boys in town, riding around in Roy’s pink 1959 pink Thunderbird convertible. Elizabeth wound up with Roy, though he has taken to taking off in that car without word, while Hattie settled down with dependable Vernon. Amy Lee (Brown), a Baptist country club member who grew up poor with Hattie but married rich, later shows up to gossip, wearing the same dress as Hattie and causing existing tensions to rise.
Despite being new to theater at Knox, the three leads had plenty of prior experience between them, with Hertel having been in 10 previous plays, Hurst having performed in musicals, and Brown having done drama throughout high school.
Antoff recounted how hectic Studio Theater auditions had been, due to a casting pool of nearly 80 students.
“[We saw] a lot of new students that had never been in theater at Knox. So it’s been really fun for me to work with younger actors who haven’t taken the advanced acting classes because it gives me a better idea of how to teach acting skills rather than just saying ‘no, I don’t like that, try something else,'” she said.
For Brown, it was easy slipping into the character of a young married woman in Maynard not because of the similarities to her own life but because of the way the lines carried the character.
“It’s kind of horrifying how easily Amy Lee comes to me. I have a total connection that I’d never have said that I would have had. If anything, it was a great outlet,” she said.
Belinda Puetz came with Linda Shinn from Indianapolis to see her granddaughter, props manager and senior Katrina Rudolph‘s show.
“I thought the subject matter was terrific, the set was perfect, I was floored to find out that the three actresses were freshmen,” said Shinn. Puetz agreed, adding that the show’s themes that could have “galvanized the audience were discussed but not dwelled upon and not made controversial.”