Becoming a Legend: Patsy Cline at ACT

It’s hard to please a Patsy fan and her mother.

Since I was a little girl, I've adored Patsy Cline. Her soulful country ballads—not to mention those sung by the likes of Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Emmylou Harris, and so many of her contemporaries—stirred my little heart so much as to spark a lifelong love of twang, pedal steel, gold cowboy boots, and outrageously big hair. And though over the years I have given my mom a shitload of grief for forcing schlock like Yanni and Muzak-like smooth jazz into my protesting ears, she does get credit for introducing me to country music, to Cline in particular. Therefore it seemed logical for me to take her and my stepdad to see Always . . . Patsy Cline, a musical written by Ted Swindley that premiered in Texas 20 years ago.Not counting the live band, there are exactly two characters in this play: Miz Patsy Cline herself and Louise Seger, at whose home Cline slept after they struck up a friendship before one of the singer's shows in a Texas honky-tonk. They corresponded by mail for the next two years, right up until Cline was killed in that plane crash in 1963. The show takes place in ACT's Bullitt Theater, where chairs and tables are dispersed throughout the room; I later realized this is because the play makes full use of the two-story space, which shows some real ingenuity considering how tiny the actual stage is. You couldn't hardly fit the full band—who do a bang-up job—on that weensy thing.Actress Kate Jaeger steals the show as Louise, a divorcée with two small children, a no-nonsense attitude, and an obsession with Cline's music. I won't spoil the funnies for you, but I tell you what: She has great comic timing. Now, Cayman Ilika, who plays Cline, has a lovely singing voice, and she's a decent actress. But she does not sound like Patsy Cline. She sounds like a classically-trained jazz singer covering Patsy Cline, but she does not sound like Patsy Cline. And it bugged me. When she speaks, she pulls off a fabulous Southern accent, but it disappears when she starts singing, which lends an unfortunate lounge vibe to Cline's hits.When I whispered this sentiment to my mother, I expected her to hush me and tell me I was being too critical. That's usually what happens whenever I express negative feelings to her about any subject whatsoever. My mom, after all, grew up in a cultural environment similar to Cline's, in which ladies were taught not to say anything unless they're planning to say something nice, or at least inoffensive. But to my surprise, she agreed with me. Then at intermission, my boyfriend jumped down my throat about how I was just being a pill because I happen to be somewhat indifferent to most contemporary jazz.But the bottom line is that Cline was not a jazz vocalist. She was a country singer. East is east, west is west, and never the twain shall meet. Feel me? And while I can't deny that Ilika sings the songs beautifully, I went in there hoping to be convinced, if only for a minute, that the year was 1958 and I was sitting in the Grand Ole Opry in my Sunday dress watching Patsy Cline herself sing the Southern blues the way only she can. That never happened, which I can chalk up to inflated expectations and not enough booze. (I only had two glasses, in addition to a cocktail earlier in the day, and my mom still thinks I'm a raging drunk. You just can't win sometimes.) After all, that's why people are still writing plays about Cline— because she's a legend. And it's tough to live up to a legend. Or your mom's expectations. But hey—you can try. And at the end of the day, it was a hell of an entertaining try.sbrickner@seattleweekly.com

 
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