13 Miles from Security from Big Head Productions: Battle of the Sexes Makes for a Good Night of Theater

The setup:

Local playwright Kathy Drum creates vivid characters in a Texarkana setting as the battle of the sexes rages on.

The execution:

The sometimes stark stage of the Obsidian Art Space now sports not one but two detailed sets, designed by Leighza Walker: the rural porch and yard of a small cattle ranch, and the front of a closed small general store, and they serve well the purpose of anchoring the events firmly in reality. The actors cement the reality, with powerful presences and strong delivery. The ranch couple are Herb and Tess (Tom Stell and Leighza Walker), combative and locked together with lust and inertia, while Tonic and Judy (Ryan Kelly and playwright Kathy Drum) play a couple deeply in love and with God in their hearts.

The men are in the yard of the ranch, while the women, who have gone shopping and to a movie and then have run out of gas, are waiting for the store to open. It never does, and the lack of resourcefulness in not looking elsewhere is convenient but a bit implausible. Short scenes alternate in cinematic style between the locales, and we learn about the marital relationships, the bonding and the problems, without seeing the interaction between husband and wife, an interesting approach that creates suspense.

Two other characters enter in Act II to grace the stage in equally solid authenticity; these are William (Jon Egging), a sweet-talkin' cowboy-type with a red pickup (aptly named), and Wanda (Randi Hall), a bearer of truth. All the actors are wonderful, authentic, interesting, powerful when needed but supplying subtlety in moments of dry wit or irony. One reservation I had is that Herb has such a commanding personality that Tonic seems overpowered by him -- the relationship might have gained interest by their being somewhat more evenly matched. The excellent direction is by Ricky Welch, who keeps the action flowing and the pace brisk. Drum is one of Houston's finest actors, but her performance is so energetic here that it would lose nothing by being a bit less busy.

A distracting thought kept interrupting my rapt involvement in the proceedings -- Leighza Walker has such poise, and inner strength, and classical beauty, that I would love to see her in Medea. This is unlikely, as Big Head Productions has made a name for itself with powerful, raw, contemporary drama, but, hey, Medea is all that except for contemporary. And this talented troupe could probably find a way to handle that.

Kathy Drum's writing is reminiscent of David Mamet at his best, creating through natural dialogue a milieu with which you may not be familiar, but you'll recognize its truth when you see it. You wouldn't necessarily want these people in your living room, but it's a real treat to see them onstage. The play has a lot going for it: originality, twists, conflict, real events and a dramatic denouement, and it augurs well for future works from Drum. If structure and relevance can be developed further, she might become a significant force in theater.

The verdict:

Powerful acting and an original, authentic script create a vivid portrait of six Texarkana individuals, etched beautifully by playwright Kathy Drum, making for exciting and highly enjoyable theater.

13 Miles from Security continues through March 24, Big Head Productions at Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak. For information or ticketing, call 832-889-7837 or visit

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Jim Tommaney