The Rep’s “So Lonesome You Could Cry” — now with video!

By - Jan 24th, 2011 10:42 am
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Matthew Brumlow as Hank Williams, in The Rep’s “Nobody Lonesome for Me.” Photo by Michael Brosilow.

How could Hank Williams, Sr., the man responsible for some of the nation’s best-loved country-western songs, have been anything more than a wholesome southern boy trying to make his way?

Well he wasn’t, and playwright Lanie Robertson’s doesn’t blink in Nobody Lonesome for Me, a portrait Hiram “Hank” Williams’ last night on earth. The Milwaukee Rep opened the show Sunday (Jan. 23) at the Stackner Cabaret.

Robertson has masterfully captured the country-western legend’s profane joy and self doubt. The show nods to the real-life troubles that musicians of all genres have faced, including drug and alcohol abuse, abandonment issues, and family histories of mental illness, without discrediting Williams’ contribution to the great songbook of life.

Robertson, also the writer of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, provides nuance and background to his characters gracefully. Signature touches of atmosphere and wardrobe, courtesy of scenic and costume designers Susannah Barnes and Alex Tecoma, show Hank in his finest form, from his powder blue suit and Sunday cowboy boots right down to a gorgeous personalized guitar strap. At the same time, the story, as directed by Sandy Ernst, strips the sparkling showman down to little more than a shameless, lonely drunkard waxing poetic about formative life moments.

Robertson provides an intimate glimpse into Hank’s tumultuous life. His yarns detail learning to play guitar from an old black musician, meeting his then-ex-wife Audrey, and his father’s institutionalization by his mother’s hand. With a sack full of change and a wallet full of bills, Hank’s New Year hangs precariously balanced between hope and despair.

Chicago Actor Matthew Brumlow’s glides from unmistakable southern drawl to signature yodel and strums along to the songs interspersed between one-sided conversations. His expressiveness also conveys the pain caused not only by Hank’s spina bifida and substance abuse, but his disappointing and impoverished past.

With no other performers save the Stetsoned silhouette of the “ghost guitarist” (Rep resident Actor Peter Silbert) playing from behind tinted glass, Brumlow holds the audience with the rapt intensity of praises and curses, of laughter and tears. Killing time between a series of emotional phone calls, Brumlow’s soliloquies detail Williams’ failed marriage and impoverished backwoods upbringing, peppered with bittersweet moments of happiness. Brumlow’s Williams unravels just a bit more with each shot of Jack Daniel’s.

At the end of the 90-minute show, the audience rose to its feet t0 reward the cast and crew for their effort. You needn’t have a particular interest in Hank Williams’ music to enjoy Nobody Lonesome for Me. It’s just a good show.

Click here for a video clip from the show.

Lanie Robertson’s Nobody Lonesome for Me will be playing at the Rep’s Stackner Cabaret from Jan. 21 to March 13. Tickets are $45 for 8 p.m. shows on Fridays and Saturdays ($40 for students and seniors), all other shows are $35 and $30. For tickets or more information, visit the Rep’s website or call the box office, 414-224-9490.

Categories: Classical, Theater

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