That's Love, Y'all: Low-Key Texas Romance Filled with Humor and Character

The set-up: A youngish widow is courted by a shy younger man, to her older sister's disapproval, in a sweet romance set in a small Texas town.

The execution: The world of rural Texas is created onstage in a simple but compelling set designed by Judy Reeves, who also directed the play; an adroit painting of the floor to resemble a sandy yard brings cheerful life to the play. Donna Dixon plays Daisy Wilson, abruptly widowed after 12 years of a less-than-ideal marriage. A year of widowhood has left her with a longing in her loins. Enter Garland Steinholden, portrayed by Jeffrey Dorman, shy but with his own brand of determination -- dedication to the church, to the sanctity of marriage and to Daisy, whom he's admired from afar. His inexperience with women is monumental, and is not about to change soon, since he doesn't believe in premarital relations.

Lee Raymond rounds out the cast as Daisy's older sister, Doris Perdue, whose husband is away being treated for an illness. Daisy is a strong-minded woman intent on having her own way in no uncertain terms -- her grilling of Garland on their first meeting is rigorous and unrelenting and actually very funny. The action here is largely verbal and the pace leisurely, but what the play lacks in drama and ambition is made up for by its sweetness and its charming portrayal of naivete.

The work reaches for drama in a metaphorical scene in Act Two involving rocks and a table, a moment that is difficult to make work, so its near-miss here may be as good as it gets. Jeffrey Dorman creates an authentic, credible individual; his connection with the other characters is vivid; and even some of his pantomimed hesitation has elements of interest and rich humor. Donna Dixon finds the strength in Daisy but much of her delivery strikes the same note, regardless of content, yet her portrayal of a forthright woman captures a novel individual. The part of Doris is underwritten, so Doris has little to do except chide her sister. Except for Dorman, the actors lack spontaneity, and this fault falls in the director's bailiwick, as I've seen Dixon provide it in spades in another production. Yet the director has successfully shaped an unusual love story, and she and playwright Ellsworth Schave permit us to visit a world where character survives in the midst of doubt and cynicism, and for that we are grateful.

The verdict: A low-key romance allows time for sweetness and character to emerge, and nuggets of rich humor enliven life in a rural setting in Texas.

Through October 15, Theatre Suburbia, 4106 Way Out West Drive, 713-682-3525.

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