Country singer Patsy Cline, who died in a plane crash at age 30, managed in the space of her short career to transcend the boundaries of her parochial upbringing to become a major crossover star. Songs like "Crazy" and "I Fall to Pieces" were No. 1 hits in urban markets as well as across the rural heartland, and helped propel the plain-looking girl from the hills of Virginia first to the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, and finally to mythic status in the hearts of her many devoted fans.
It's also fairly well-known that Patsy was a hard-living, prone-to-cussin' drinker and smoker who slept around consistently while on the road; had many physical altercations with her two husbands; was probably abused by her father; and survived a horrific car crash a few years before her death. Yet none of these interesting tidbits makes its way into playwright Ted Swindley's incredibly vapid paean to the late singer, Always … Patsy Cline, given yet another local airing by director Rus Blackwell in a Vine Theatre production at the Orlando Repertory Theatre's Tupperware Theatre.
Why Swindley refuses to explore how Cline's interesting life may have informed her musical identity remains an unanswered question. His narrative is based instead on the true but totally uninteresting story of a chance meeting between Cline and a Houston-based fan, one Louise Seger, who met Patsy one night and offered her a hot meal and a place to stay.
Whatever conflicts and contradictions existed in Cline's life are totally ignored, and the play (if it can be called that) is completely lacking in dramatic structure. Worse, the cliché-ridden dialogue ("We tore through there like greased lightning"; "My pants fit me like a glove") is about as exciting as a reality TV show in which ordinary people drone on endlessly about their utterly banal lives.
As Louise, the star-struck fan who befriends Cline and begins a pen-pal relationship with her after their brief meeting (the play's title comes from the way the singer signed her letters), actress Whitney Goin tries way too hard to inject excitement and gaiety into the lackluster proceedings. Her constant cheerleading finally becomes overbearing, and her gushing over what is essentially a pajama party with a traveling country and western singer seems rather puerile. Then again, Swindley hasn't given her much to work with.
In the end, the show is really just an excuse to hear some of Cline's memorable vocal renditions re-created. As the popular songstress, actress Darlin Barry comes out swinging, and with glottal stops intact. Though we learn absolutely nothing about Patsy other than the fact that she loves her kids and likes to change clothes a lot the impersonation offered by BarryÃ¢ who has played the role before, is dead-on and musically satisfying. She's also ably backed by a five-piece combo dubbed The Bodacious Bobcats.
After a while, one begins to wish that Louise would simply go away and stop interrupting with her endless imprecations to have a good time. Leaving the entire evening to the performances of Cline's most famous tunes might shorten the show's length somewhat, but it would certainly improve its digestibility.