The premise of a contest with a variety of people competing to win a new truck—by keeping one hand on it during a marathon session that tests all of their endurance—is one with dramatic and comedic potential. Not all of that potential is realized in Venice Theatre’s Stand by Your Van, but this play, developed by the theater with playwright/director Paul Bourne, does have its moments.
Bourne originally presented the idea of a “touch the truck” competition with Craig Baxter for performance a few years ago at the Edinburgh Festival, but it’s been totally reworked here, in large part to provide an American slant on the hopers and dreamers who are willing to spend hours standing with no sleep and only occasional breaks, no longer how it takes, just to bring home a brand-new Tacoma. In the play, the contest is the brainchild of a down-on-his-luck car dealer (Daniel Greene), who hopes it will boost business. His more practical wife (Lynne Doyle) foresees nothing but disaster, but reluctantly plays along as the 12 competitors—plucked from a range of ages, gender and race—are introduced to us.
That line-up of characters includes a single mother of two (Heather Forte O’Dea), a “Praise Jesus” true believer (Kay Crosby), a grad student studying the effects of sleep deprivation (Allie Pinkerton), a strong but silent type (Mark Richardson), an aggressive schemer (Ronald Krine Myroup), a kindly grandmother (Lynne Buhle), a desperate housewife (Nancy Denton), two young people bound to fall in love (Brandon Michael and Kenzie Balliet), a guy who feels for trucks more than he can express (Ross Boehringer), an old guy who likes to drink (Bennett Gross) and another guy, a loser whose name no one can remember (Ken Basque). Each has his or her own motivations for competing, and it’s interesting (although too drawn-out) to see their rivalries and rationales develop.
I like the way director Bourne handles scene changes (the actors silently move from one spot to another on the truck, accompanied by music, always keeping one hand on the vehicle) and departures as characters are eliminated (each has his own appropriate exit music). And there are some likeable performances, most notably O’Dea as single mom Lynnette, Boehringer as Lawrence (the guy with the hots for the Tacoma), Buhle (whose elderly Martha is a little confused but upbeat despite all) and Myroup, who puts a nice edge on his determined-to-win-at-all costs Brad. The script delivers both the expected humor and some less expected flashes of drama.
But often lines just fall flat, wasting opportunities to provide needed punch at the end of a scene. And the show could use some cuts; it’s not just the characters onstage who are likely to feel tired by the end of the evening. Tightening the script a bit could only benefit everyone.
Stand by Your Van actually has four possible endings, so the winner you see one night may not be the winner if you come back another evening. If that’s not incentive enough to see the show twice, there’s also the chance you could win a brand-new car from Cramer Toyota of Venice, which sits in the theater lobby; everyone who buys a ticket to the show is entered in that contest, with 17 finalists taking the stage themselves and a winner to be announced at the final performance April 22 (must be present to win).
For tickets to Stand by Your Van, call 488-1115 or go to venicestage.com.