It starts out looking like one thing, but get to know it and it's something quite different. The play looks like a laugh-riot at first. Its characters look like stock ignoramuses, the wives incapable of taking care of themselves, the husbands violent and immature. The denizens of Hazard County have learned their life lessons from the 1980s TV series The Dukes of Hazzard. But like all good theatre, layers are peeled away and a universal humanity is revealed.
Allison Moore's script works subtly--perhaps too subtly, as it takes second or third thoughts about the play for us to even begin to gather its twists and points. Director Richard Tatum provides the sturdy armature on which the actors build their characters--in the case of JoBeth Prince and Chairman Barnes, many characters. Simple shifts of lighting and the addition of a few props set the many scenes without too much distraction. We are whisked from the home of the comforting Camille (Mary Pringle), who has taken in the widowed Ruth (Tracy Eliott) and her twins (Prince, Barnes), to a bar, where they meet Blake (Michael Agrusso)--who is from, well, elsewhere--to Ruth's car to a hotel and back home again. Along the way we hear from fans of The Dukes of Hazzard--housewives, professors, kids--who note the ethics the series taught: If something's broken, you fix it; if someone needs your help, you help him. The actors richly flesh their roles, but particularly fun to watch are Prince and Barnes, who throw themselves fully but warmheartedly into creating silly kids and overly enthusiastic adults.
Are all Southerners the same? Are all poor white Kentuckians red-necked and ignorant? Are all Northerners manipulative? Are all audiences prepared to think? Okay, maybe we got you there.
Presented by and at the Ark Theatre, 1647 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A. Thu. & Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Mar. 8-Apr. 23. (323) 969-1707. www.arktheatre.org.