One of the most popular writing teachers I encountered in grad school, both at the University of Iowa and the University of South Carolina, was William Price Fox. His novels and short story collections weren’t particularly deep — Doctor Golf and Moonshine Light, Moonshine Bright are a couple of his titles — but the man knew how to tell a story and he was fun to be around, in class or at a nearby watering hole.
He had a special affection for Columbia, SC, that shone through most brightly in Southern Fried, a wonderful set of short stories that gave me a taste of what the rougher parts of the city were like decades before I arrived, lightly sprinkled with the seasoning of a tall tale. That’s what Jon Klein’s T Bone n’ Weasel reminds me of in its current production at 1212 Studio.
Klein takes us into similar territory familiar to Sandlappers in this picaresque story that follows the dumb-and-dumber misadventures of two ex-cons — exhuming Blythewood, Lugoff, and Richland County from my memory bank. The Quixotic Theatre production, with a truly cheesy simulation of a Chevette by Jenn Quigley, delivers the rusticity of these locales through projections that come off nicely at 1212, rendered in black-and-white to preserve their homely seediness.
Whether it’s a used car salesman, a hard-ass cop, an aspiring politician, or a mad tramp under a bridge, what unites most of the South Carolinians who mercilessly fleece these hapless desperadoes is their utter corruption. So a dramatically slimmed-down Matt Kenyon nearly steals the show changing in and out of a tasty gallery of Quigley costumes, playing a couple of naïve dolts even dumber than Weasel along the way. It’s a set of roles that earned Gina Stewart a Loaf Award for Best Supporting Comedy Actress in 2000, and Kenyon pleases me just as much, though I do wish the names of his characters appeared in the playbill.
If you’ve seen J.R. Adduci in his notorious role as Bobby in the Morris-Jinkins commercials, you don’t need to stretch your imagination too far to envision how he comes off as Weasel. The voice and accent are pretty much the same, but here Adduci is intellectually living down to his rodent name, and the morals he has left can mostly be attributed to an incurably cheerful goofiness.
The only aspect of the production that limped a little on opening night was Brandon Wallace, a late substitution as T Bone. He’s pretty much the Dean Martin straight man in this comedy duo anyway, setting up the laughs far more often than delivering them, but I wanted more forcefulness from him during the early exposition — and more volume, especially since he’s the more volatile and violence-prone of the two criminals. Quigley or director Sean Kimbro must have gotten to Wallace during intermission on opening night, for he was noticeably more audible during Act 2.
1212 has only been on my radar once before for a theater performance, when Citizens of the Universe adapted Reservoir Dogs there in 2010, and Quixotic’s current work reaffirms the funky lab room virtues of the E. 10th Street venue. Kimbro keeps the pace quick — 91 minutes plus a 15-minute break — and the tone light, no small feat when we’re following two desperate hombres just scraping by.