In New Country, playwright-performer Mark Roberts steals his own show. He plays Uncle Jim, an addled hillbilly with an appetite for intoxicating substances, a rude sense of humor, and a propensity for waxing existential — think Duck Dynasty with a soupçon of Beckett. Issuing stoner quips from behind a luxuriant beard, he chews scenery while guzzling booze.
Too bad the rest of the play is an empty showcase for this charming performance. The action unfolds in a Nashville hotel room just before the nuptials of country music star Justin Spears (David Lind). He’s a petulant brat who’s forgotten his hardscrabble roots. Fortunately, figures from his past are lurking at the suite entrance to remind him of his lapses. In door-slamming succession, we get hard-done-by managers, the wronged ex, a perky bellhop poised to become a skeleton in Justin’s closet — and Uncle Jim himself, perhaps the most wronged of all. The grievances are aired in the key of sincere shouting (also, tears). At times director David Harwell’s production feels like circuit training for actors: First the yelling, pace across the room for the crying, finish with the hard-won optimism. Repeat.
Apparently there’s been a moral decline from Old Country’s rectitude — epitomized by Hank Williams, R.I.P. — to New Country’s turpitude. Dunno. To paraphrase Ol’ Hank, this bucket has a hole in it.