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A family’s feud makes for poignant theatre

By Cynthia Citron

Cynthia Citron

LOS ANGELES — Sonny Burl is a country music star who can fill a stadium with his voice and his guitar.  You may never have heard of him, but he is the focal point of Mark Roberts’ play Where the Great Ones Run, now having its West Coast premiere at Theatre Theater in L.A.

Jeff Kober plays Sonny by channeling Jeff Bridges’ character from Crazy Heart and, like Bridges, he is charming, charismatic, and riveting.  Whenever he’s on stage, he’s the one you’re watching.

In Where the Great Ones Run, Burl has returned home to Indiana to play one last concert and to reconnect with his long-neglected family: his never-divorced wife Marylou (Holly Fulger), his belligerent daughter Julie (Lily Holleman) and his brother and one-time musical partner Buddy (Mark St. Amant).

He joins them in Marylou’s seedy truck stop diner, which has been so well conceived by set designer Keith Mitchell that it nearly upstages the ensemble cast.

Fortunately, however, the large cast of disparate characters is so well drawn and so well acted that they manage to hold their own in this extraordinarily effective milieu.  Though scantly supplied with back-story, each has his moment in the spotlight that serves to define and endear him to the audience.

Paramount is Marylou, whose cold demeanor masks her anger and angst about the husband who deserted her.  “Did I do something wrong? Was I not pretty enough?” she wonders.

Young Julie, who looks enough like Marylou to actually be her daughter, plays it mostly over-the-top.  She is a potty-mouthed brat who dispels any sympathy one might feel for her by overwhelming everyone with her uncontrolled anger.

Instead, the sympathy goes to Buddy, the abandoned brother, still full of love and admiration for Sonny, but squandering his life in booze and apathy.  He has one comic scene in which he shows up drunk and nude—quirky but revealing (no pun intended).

A small, excellent vignette features Hersha Parady and Howard S. Miller as a married couple who take the opportunity to gently harangue Sonny about his lifestyle and spew Biblical admonitions at him.  “God listens to famous people first,” Parady says.  Pure Bible Belt, Sonny notes.

Another excellent pair is Robert John Brewer and Andy Hirsch, a couple of café regulars whose conversations add an extraneous irrelevance to the goings-on.  And Jennifer Pollono, as the truck stop’s motor-mouth gossip is also wonderful.

The only off-note in this authentically moving universe is the mush-mouthed Old Man (Tucker Smallwood) who sits in the corner and periodically interrupts with pithy comments that make no sense.  Everyone ignores him, especially later, when he takes to shouting out the ads in the local paper: “Three cans of corn, one dollar!”  His comments may have been intended as some sort of profound reflection on the action, but if so, I missed it.

Mark Roberts, the author of this little gem of a play, is the creator and executive producer of the sitcom Mike and Molly, and he also spent seven years with Two and a Half Men.  He is fortunate to have the excellent director Mark L. Taylor guiding his production of Where the Great Ones Run, and to have the award-winning Rogue Machine offering it as the first production of their 2012 season.

In addition, the production benefits from the efforts of lighting designer Jeremy Pivnick, the original music and recordings of The Far West, and panoramic video projections of the bleak landscape and moody sunsets of rural Indiana by Adam Flemming.

The players are a group of people you can really care about, and the play is well worth a visit.

Where the Great Ones Run will continue at Theatre Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd in Los Angeles, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 through July 14th.  For reservations call 855-585-5185 or go to

Citron is Los Angeles bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World.  She may be contacted at [email protected]

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