REVIEWSREVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

Princes of Waco

By Robert Askins

Directed by Bries Vannon

At Signal Ensemble, Chicago

Weird character changes muddles salty cowboy drama

I homage to Sam Shepard, playwright Robert Askins has penned a barroom  drama that finds each of his main characters going through major character changes that defy explanation. The setting is in a rundown bar in Waco Texas that finds Fritz (Joseph Stearns) drinking himself into oblivion while arguing with Toasty (Meredith Bell Alvarez), the barkeep. Enter Jim (Rob Fenton), a 17 year old boy running away from his newly deceased preacher father. He waits for a bus in the bar and he  quickly come under the spell of Fritz – the drunken, cowboy and petty criminal who entices the boy with drink and macho. Jim is influenced by the wacky, glib bad man. They form a strange alliance until Esme (Carolyn Braver)  enters Jim’s life as he hangs out in a parking lot. Sparks fly between the two. When Esme enters the bar to find Jim (who has disappeared), Fritz is smitten by her sensuality. Esme is easily swayed by Fritz’s worldly ways.

princes of waco

Esme move in with Fritz since Jim has left town. But when Jim returns two years later, he is bent on getting Esme back and revenge toward Fritz who sent him to prison. In a series of incomprehensible plot twists and improbable characters transformations, the Princes of Waco strains our ability to stretch our beliefs. I simply could not see how and why Jim was so easily become a criminal or how Eseme could become such a sex-driven manipulator. Add the fact that the cowboy criminal ends up studying to be a nurse and the play become most improbable.. The false endings and weird last scenes are too much of a stretch for me.

signal ensemble

The only thing that kept me engaged was the strong performance by Joe Stearns as the evil Fritz. Stearns is an under rated character actor completely at home in comic or evil roles. Carolyn Braver is wonderfully mystifying as Esme and Rob Fenton plays pent up rage nicely. The acting carries the weak and unfocused script. Too bad these fine players had to endure such a convoluted script.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: August 25, 2012

For more info checkout the Princes of Waco page at

At Signal Ensemble, 1802 W. Bernice, Chicago, IL, call 773-698-7389, tickets $20, $15 for students/seniors/industry, Thursdays thry Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3pm, running time is 1 hour 50 minutes with intermission, through September 22, 2012

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