Saturday, February 07, 2015

Texas in Paris

Osceola Mays was the daughter of sharecroppers and the granddaughter of slaves. She sang for the love of singing, her family, and Jesus. John Burrus was a rodeo cowboy who sang cowboy songs and hymns. In 1989 they were brought to Paris to sing a series of concerts together. Texas in Paris, presented by the York Theatre Company, was written by Alan Govenar, based on his interviews with the actual Mays and Burrus and on the actual concerts they gave. Govenar is a writer, folklorist, photographer, and filmmaker. What he is not, unfortunately, is a playwright.

Photo: Carol Rosegg
Texas in Paris is slight and rife with missed possibilities, some of which are also director Akin Babatundé's responsibility. The plot, such as it is, follows the changing relationship between Mays and Burrus. Specifically, it shows Burrus's growing acceptance of a friendship with the cheerful, talkative Mays, despite his lack of experience with African-Americans, mild-mannered racism, and general laconic grumpiness. It is a slight plot, but potentially serviceable--except that it is treated as little more than filler between the songs. For example, [slight spoiler], the pair sings their songs separately. Mays sings a cappella; Burrus accompanies himself on the guitar. The first time she sings harmony with him, it should be a moment. Burrus should at least give her a look of surpris. He doesn't. And the first time he starts playing guitar for one of her songs, it should be a big moment. In fact, it should be as climactic as anything can be in this little piece. It's not. [end of spoiler]

Texas in Paris is not without its charms, the main one being Lilias White's lovely performance as Mays. White tamps down her usual theatrical exuberance and gets to the heart of this unassuming woman who sang for the love of singing. Scott Wakefield is good as Burrus. Best of all, they are not miked, and it is a treat to hear their unadorned voices in the York's cozy theatre.

Ultimately, Texas in Paris is a pleasant but minor 80 minutes in the theatre.

(press ticket, fifth row)

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