I blame Sam Shepard. Like gunslingers silhouetted against a desert sunset, his plays cast a long shadow over young writers. Too often, efforts to emulate Shepard’s lyrical flights and savage romances yield purple monologues and hyperbolic plots. Case in point: Robert Askins’s Princes of Waco, part of Ensemble Studio Theatre’s current Youngblood series.
Fleeing his father’s funeral, ragamuffin Jim ducks into a tatty dive and meets Fritz, a grizzled barfly brimming with bleary wisdom. Replacing one dad with another, Jim joins Fritz in a petty crime spree/school of manliness. Meanwhile, puppy love blooms when Jim and tomboyish Essy—childhood playmates—reunite.
But Fritz wants a patsy, not a protégé—betraying Jim to the law, he pursues his own fling with Essy. Four years later—after intermission—Jim returns, prison-hardened and hungry for revenge.
With its barroom setting and cross-generational feuds, Princes plays like Fool for Love spliced with Cheers (Toasty, a leathery slattern, serves drinks and badinage). Askins is adept at drawling repartee, but the folksiness soon palls. As Fritz emits endless boozy proverbs, you can hear Askins savoring his best lines.
The cast’s vigorous performances only amplify Askins’s sappiness: Remorse for wrecked lives sounds ludicrous coming from 21-year-olds. These yokels aren’t fools for love—they’re just fools.