A group of people stand around a truck. They're in Longview, Texas and the summer sun is burning. There are rules.
"You can't lean on the truck. You have to keep one hand on it at all times. Each person in the competition has to wear a glove on their hand so you don't mess up the truck," says Betty Marie Muessig who plays one of the contestants, Kelli.
Based on a documentary film, the musical Hands on a Hardbody is the final inaugural season offering for TUTS Underground. It tells the story of people competing to win a truck, sure that by doing so, they'll have a way out of their circumstances (by either driving it away or selling it.)
Kelli Mangrum is a 22-year-old UPS employee who dreams of leaving Texas and figures this is her ticket out. One of her competitors won two years before and she doesn't think it's fair that he's in the competition again, says Muessig.
Muessig, a graduate of Houston's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and now a rising senior and musical theater major at Texas State University in San Marcos, says she can relate to a) her character's determination and b) desire to leave Texas (Muessig plans to move to New York City after college) but that she doubts that she would last very long in a competition like this. Complete with music by Phish's Trey Anastasio, the two-act show also features a Nissan pick-up truck center stage
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Performances of Hand on a Hardbody run June 12 through 22. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 8:30 p.m. Saturdays and 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Zilkha Hall at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information call 713-558-8887 or visti tutsunderground.com. $35-$39.