David Wayne Reed delivers a frequently comic and sometimes poignant variation on the art of the monologue in “Jolly Rancher,” an autobiographical synthesis of his experiences as an extroverted farm kid who grew up to be a multitalented theater artist.
Reed, a founding member of Late Night Theatre, has fashioned a show built on a literary foundation crafted to fit his expressive, twinkle-in-the-eye performance style. Reading from a prepared script, Reed gives us a show that is essentially a succession of first-person short stories.
Reed performs in farm clothes — overalls and a seed cap initially, jeans and a work shirt later — backed by a collection of visual symbols, including a John Deere thermometer, a DeKalb seed company sign and old license tags form Miami and Wyandotte counties.
Reed grew up outside Louisburg, Kan., and by his account was far from the typical farm kid. Yes, he joined the Future Farmers of America, but he liked to put on improvised shows for the farm workers and traveling seed salesmen.
His best friends in high school were misfits. He became a theater student in college. And eventually, he settled in Kansas City to pursue the actor’s life. He describes high school reunions, his loving but complicated relationship with his father and other family members, the challenge of maneuvering the social strata of the Kansas City gay community and his encounter with the notorious “human potential” program called Landmark Forum.
Reed includes some painful memories, including the loss of a beloved aunt, and his description of the transformation of Louisburg from a simple farm town to a subdivided exurb full of McMansions is touching and telling.
Reed performs “Jolly Rancher” without an intermission and on opening night the show seemed a bit too long — although some of its length was attributable to frequent bursts of laughter and spontaneous applause.
Reed could be accused of going for the easy laugh too often, but he conveys a heartfelt sense of reality that theatergoers encounter too seldom. I believe it’s what we call “real life.”
I hope Reed continues to refine and hone this piece, because I can easily imagine the show getting tighter, faster and better.