Can we please declare a moratorium on country-fried theater? Between Moonshine: That Hee Haw Musical at Dallas Theater Center last season and two recent offerings from Theatre Three — The Kountry Girls and Cotton Patch Gospel — we're fixin' to create a shortage of Southern idioms.
And now we have Oil, by Houston playwright Neil Tucker. The script has been consistently tinkered with since 1988, continuing even after Tucker's death in 1995. His daughter, Raelle Tucker, oversaw rewrites during the last 20 years, and after readings at DTC and Echo Theatre, the show is finally getting its official world premiere at Theatre Three through February 14.
Turns out the play's history is the only interesting thing about it. Set in Houston in 1987, it promises outrageous and hilarious action among the filthy rich Holes clan, oil magnates with their own brands of personal drama.
But that empty hype fizzles out before the first scene is even over. Tucker's overwrought dialogue is eye-rollingly clichéd, the plot soggy, and his characters flimsier than bluebonnets after a tornado.
But you have to hand it to Gene Raye Price, who attacks the role of Magritte with ferocity. The alcoholic matriarch is so tormented by dreams of striking oil again that she's striking deals behind her philandering husband's back, partnering with her nephew to open her own drilling company.
Marty Van Kleeck, who directed Price in Theatre Too's long-running Shear Madness, here stitches together a production that's nearly as disjointed as the script.
Haphazardly orbiting around Magritte are her husband, Sycamore (a mush-mouthed John S. Davies); her hippie daughter, Petite (Jenna Anderson); and her sassy maid, Maudie (Patricia E. Hill). In a play like this, there always has to be a sassy black maid who bosses around her scatterbrained employer. It's a rule.
The arrival of nephew Leroy, played nonchalantly by Greg Hullett, is supposed to turn the Holes' world upside down. Instead, his inoffensive attitude makes his supposed backhanded dealings all the more confusing.
Boilerplate subplots (cancer, homophobia, racism, a visiting Middle Eastern princess) further drag down the story and don't influence the outcome in any way. After nearly 30 years, these holes have run dry.