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Tucson Weekly Brisk Lamentation

Patsy Cline Remains The Unknowable Star In The Invisible Theatre Production Celebrating Her Talent

By Margaret Regan

SEPTEMBER 22, 1997:  IF YOU CAN stand one more lamentation for a dead celebrity, Invisible Theatre's Always...Patsy Cline offers up a brisk evening of music and nostalgia that doesn't stray too far into the morbid.

The show is almost more musical revue than play, enlivened by some audience sing-alongs and dancing. A fine six-piece band is right up there on the tiny IT stage. Made up of local musicians, they call themselves the Bodacious Bobcats, and they do yeoman work providing instrumentals for Liz McMahon's vocals. All dolled up as Cline in black curls and sparkly dresses, McMahon puts her superb voice through some two dozen Pasty Cline hits, including "Walkin' After Midnight," "Crazy" and "Honky Tonk Merry Go Round."

Cline was a full-strength celeb before the word was invented, electrifying country music audiences in the late '50s and early '60s. She was killed in one of those iconic music-world plane crashes, losing her life at the age of 31 in 1963, when her plane smashed into a mountain. Her impending death is a melancholy leitmotif to the play, which is constructed as a flashback narrated by one of her truest fans.

That fan, Louise Seger, is a middle-aged woman now, but she looks back on a lucky time in her young womanhood when she actually met Cline. Played a little too close to the Southern country-gal type by Joy Hawkins, all blue eye shadow and saucy bumps and grinds, Louise has been starstruck since she first saw Cline on TV on the Arthur Godfrey show. The two actually meet when the up-and-coming star comes to Houston for a gig at a slightly sleazy roadhouse. Before the show, Louise spots Cline sitting all by herself by the jukebox; she makes herself go over to say howdy. Turns out Cline is just as friendly, warmhearted and lonely as her songs suggest. Not only does she set herself down at Louise's table for a couple hours of sisterly gabbing, she invites her new pal up onto the stage. Thus begins an unusual friendship conducted through telephone calls and letters (signed Always...Patsy Cline) that lasted until the singer's death.

In a sense, this charming story is an early case history in the power of the mass media, which marketed Cline through newfangled television and old-fashioned radio. Louise reports that the first time she heard Patsy, "She was in my living room." Never mind that the singer was on TV: The box made it seem like Cline was paying her a personal visit. One of the most appealing aspects of this apparently true story, written by Ted Swindley, who also directs, is that it satisfies an important tenet of fandom, namely that the beloved celebrity is exactly the down-to-earth person the fan believes her to be.

Fame and fortune notwithstanding, Cline is the emotional twin of Louise, worried by man troubles, crazy about her kids. Or at least that's what Louise believes. In point of fact, Cline remains a relatively elusive figure in this play. The talk about the friendship is almost all Louise's. Despite her brief appearance in Louise's kitchen in one of Louise's aprons, Cline is seen far more often on stage, covered in sequins, bathed in theatrical lights and singing in that heartbreaking voice. She's the unknowable star.

Cline's gift was to sing with utter sincerity about universal woes, and to sing in such a way that she spoke to each and every listener, not just Louise Seger. Naturally fans believed she was just like them. Always...Patsy Cline is a tantalizing reminder of that gift, and a welcome reprise of the songs she made so true.

Always...Patsy Cline continues through Sunday, October 5, at the Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays. Ticket prices are $16 to $18. For more information call 882-9721.

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