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Bandera, Texas
by Lisa Dellagiarino Feriend
Directed by Trish Brown
Prism Theatre Company
August 26, 2022

Leslie Wobbe, Maggie Lehman, Jenni Ryan
Photo by Dan Steadman
Prism Theatre Company

A brand new St. Louis theatre company is making its debut with a world premiere play, and it’s a promising beginning for both. Bandera, Texas is a family comedy with a touch of drama and a side of fantasy. Staged in a relatively simple setting at the Kranzberg’s Black Box theatre, it focuses on relationships–between parents and children, husbands and wives, with a primary focus on resilient women in the midst of challenging circumstances, with an emphasis on hope and the definition of home. 

The set-up features two women, Italian immigrant Mary (Leslie Wobbe) and Irish-American Genevieve (Jenni Ryan), telling of their attachment to New York City, and how they knew they belonged there. Then, the scene shifts to a cluttered trailer in Texas, as pregnant, transplanted New Yorker Liz (Maggie Lehman) has just arrived with her Texas-born husband, Dave (Mike DePope), and is regretting agreeing to this life-changing move, returning to Dave’s hometown as he has been offered his dream job teaching and coaching at his old high school. Liz, whose New York City roots run deep, has difficulty dealing with the shock of the change, and the way it seems to be affecting Dave, until suddenly, she finds herself in the presence of both of her grandmothers, paternal Grandma Mary and maternal Nana Genevieve. The biggest shock here for Liz is that both grandmothers are no longer living, so they are either ghosts or figments of Liz’s imagination. That aspect isn’t made entirely clear, but it doesn’t really matter, because the point is that the grandmothers are here to help Liz sort out her thoughts and emotions about the jarring change in her living situation, her relationship with Dave, and the anticipation of raising a child in an unfamiliar location. The story in Texas is intercut with flashbacks from the lives of both grandmothers, and how they dealt with various challenges and changes, both good and bad, in their own lives. It’s a compelling story full of fascinating characterizations and even a little bit of mystery, as the lives of these women unfold and we see how they relate to Liz’s situation. 

The dialogue is credible and well-paced, with a humorous tone much of the time and moments of poignancy at key times. The characters are well-defined, as well, and brought to life vividly by the strong cast. As Liz, Lehman projects a likable “everywoman” quality, with a believable degree of angst over her situation. DePope’s Dave is also amiable, showing good chemistry with Lehman and doing especially well with some of the more comic moments. Both Ryan and Wobbe are excellent as the grandmothers, differing in personality but both tenacious in their own ways, showing a playful contrast with one another and a palpable care for their granddaughter, and the flashback scenes are especially effective. There’s also a remarkable versatile performance from Ryan Burns displaying an excellent range both comic and dramatic as a variety of men in the grandmothers’ lives, from husbands to sons, to coworkers, and more. The interplay between the various characters forms much of the appeal of this play, and the energy and pacing are just right, from the more whimsical humor to the quieter dramatic moments. 

The technical setup is simple, but effective, with Leah McFall’s set providing the framework that suggests the trailer that Liz and Dave have moved into, with appropriate changes to cleanliness and order as the story progresses and the couple settles in. The characters are well-outfitted by costume designer Rebecca Bailey, as well–especially the grandmothers, whose wardrobe does much to suggest their personalities and style. The lighting, designed by Erin Thibodeaux, works well to set the mood and atmosphere, especially in the flashback sequences to set them apart from the present-day scenes; and there’s also excellent sound design by Jacob Baxley. 

Bandera, Texas is a promising first production from a promising playwright and an exciting new local theatre company. It’s a compelling look at how location, family, and personal history shape a person’s life, as well as showing how generations of women persevere through various trials. It’s mostly lighthearted, with some truly heartfelt moments of poignancy along the way. From New York to Texas to St. Louis, this play makes a memorable impression. 

Mike DePope, Maggie Lehman
Photo by Dan Steadman
Prism Theatre Company

Prism Theatre Company is presenting Bandera, Texas at the Kranzberg Arts Center until September 4, 2022

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