Don’t be fooled by the thick twang, gun shooting, and moonshine swigs. Tennessee Playboy of Triad Stage — a self proclaimed redneck romance — humorously contemplates love and the glorification of celebrity in a bittersweet parable.

Celebrating the completion of its 12th season, Triad Stage has remained a cornerstone of the flourishing professional theatre in North Carolina. With over 75 productions since they opened Triad Stage in 2002, founders Preston Lane and Richard Whittington have been diligent in serving the community with theatre that exudes a mastery of artistic integrity and a conscious esteem for the spirit of local residents.

Mr. Lane, artistic director, is well versed in creating pieces for the stage as an award-wining director and highly acclaimed playwright. There is a recurring motif of the earnest examination of one’s character evident in all of his productions, illuminating the commonalities of our human experience, and as a result, inciting self-reflection in his audiences.

This is especially true of Tennessee Playboy, which is loosely adapted from the Irish playwright/ poet J.M. Synge’s play The Playboy of the Western World. Lane breathes life into the comedy that was once highly controversial, resulting in riots among the people of Ireland in 1907. Although freely altering many details of the original, Lane maintains the essence of the classic story while generating text that is poetic and melodic.

Set in Eastern Tennessee in the late summer of 1975, a desperate and fearful Chuck MacAdie (James Kautz) stumbles into a 24-hour truck stop diner run by drunken Mitch Dunbar (Carrol “Chip” Johnson) and his virginal yet self-assured daughter Pearlene (Dierdre Friel). With Chuck’s confession of murdering his father and fleeing the authorities, the story of his deed combined with public fascination in criminal activity develop a pulse of their own. The mystique of the stranger’s presence in town creates lustful frenzy among the women, admiration among the men, and he is quickly deemed the “Tennessee Playboy.” However, there is much to the story yet to be revealed, which will in turn create even more chaos among the small-town people.

The ensemble of actors brilliantly executes the comedic timing and authenticity of characters that, to those unaccustomed to the American Deep South, may appear larger than life. As with any moderately sized play, it is essential for every character to be both individually realized and cohesive in order to create the full diversity of a social setting. With that said, each specific actor’s performance is to be applauded for their nuances and ability to compliment one another. However, Denise Lute gives a particularly noteworthy performance in her portrayal of the sexually charged Christian (and possibly murderous) Widow Quince. She brings unique excitement and heart to a character with sadness lurking underneath humor.

It would be remiss not to mention the most dynamic character of all, the omnipresent Jukebox! The incorporation of 70’s country music elevates the emotional intensity of every scene and propels the story just as effectively as any other dramatic device. The music fills in the gaps of what cannot be expressed with mere dialogue and often serves as both inner character monologue and narrator of plot. In theatre, just as in life, there are some places only music is able to take you.              

What is most remarkable about this play is the social commentary it gives on our society and the ramifications of celebrity. We exist in a world of constructed identities for the consumption of the public, with no real regard for truth or its various shades of grey. Any person or story can enter the ether, and if culturally enticing, be glorified, regardless of merit. We find ourselves idolizing the “celebrity” instead of the wholeness of man, or the sensationalized “story” instead of truth.

Triad Stage’s debut production of Tennessee Playboy triumphs with achievements on every theatrical level. From the text, cast, and production team, this is theatre functioning at its finest. For any regional theater fortunate enough to celebrate its 12th season, I can think of no better conclusion than the swig of moonshine, jukebox dance, and tearful laughter that is Tennessee Playboy.

Tennessee Playboy continues through Sunday, June 30. For more information on this production, please view the sidebar.