Ann Arbor Weather:
Wednesday November 13, 2019
Follow us: facebook twitter RSS feed
Panhandle Slim & The Oklahoma Kid

Panhandle Slim

Jeff Daniels goes west

by Sally Mitani

From the August, 2008 issue

Jeff Daniels, that restless playwriting mill, keeps shoving the raw grist of Americana into the hopper and spitting out scripts. His most sustained look at American life and myth is the Escanaba soon-to-be-trilogy of North Woods tall tales, but he's written about a dozen plays in all, including Across the Way, Guest Artist, and going way back to the early days of the Purple Rose Theatre, The Tropical Pickle and Shoe Man. In Panhandle Slim & The Oklahoma Kid, which runs through Saturday, August 30, he's tackled the western - not the edgy, self-consciously cool western, like No Country for Old Men, but a more romantic and old-fashioned version that tries to find some meaning in our exits and entrances.

As the play opens, in a golden desert landscape that pours from a golden picture frame, a heartless desperado, Panhandle Slim (Tom Whalen), is dragged onstage and left to die, blood spilling from his guts. And riding in hot on his heels is the Oklahoma Kid (John Seibert), a cross between Gene Autry and Oscar Wilde: the guy who just doesn't see the point of living unless he's running his mouth. He's got a guitar (which is necessary because he's going to be singing a half dozen songs written by Daniels), he's a philosopher, he's a cornpone humorist, he's a gadfly, he's a wit. And in this particular situation, where the one thing a cowboy wants to do is die quietly with some dignity, he's unwanted. (In terms of the actual plot, he also may not be real but rather a hallucination from Slim's dying brain.)

This is not Daniels's best play, nor the best produced. It's all about the words, but lines that sound as if they have some heft don't bear up well on closer examination - they have a funny cadence, or aren't actually that witty. The songs are simple and harmless but don't have the ancient cowboy cult burnish of a lot

...continued below...


of others within easy reach: "Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie" comes to mind. Most of all, the love story, which is told in flashbacks, is not only pretty thin but also tilting in sympathy to Panhandle Slim, who is - despite the charm of Whalen himself - a dirtbag. Some disconcerting direction, like an actor pointing at a sunset somewhere over the audience's heads while a shimmering violet and orange light show takes place on the stage behind him, and an entirely undeveloped female role don't help matters.

Daniels fans will love it anyway for its broad humor. And everyone will appreciate that the two principal roles are marvelously cast. Tom Whalen plays against type as a heartless outlaw. There's a kind of wistful sweetness to him, and he's got a lovely baritone (he periodically rouses himself from his job of dying to join in a chorus or two). Seibert, fluid and light on his feet, switches effortlessly between song, joke, and soliloquy, and does an awesome fake-horse-riding pantomime.

[Review published August 2008]     (end of article)

 

 
Bookmark and Share
Print Comment E-mail

You might also like:

Restaurants with Gluten-free Options Available
A clickable zoomable map
Crime Map
A clickable, zoomable map
YP Sichuan
Quick bite
Lee Lawrence
Galleries
The Terraplanes
Local institution
James M. Manheim
Herbert Dreiseitl's Bronze Sculpture
I Spy: October 2019
Sally Bjork
Meltdown Averted
A political faceoff bought time to fix the county mental health budget.
James Leonard
"Sushi unrolled" at Poke Poke
When you're the fifth poke place in a year, a good tagline helps
Sabine Bickford
The Eye in the Sky Never Lies
Meet Michigan football's secret weapon: the video staff.
John U. Bacon
Nightspots: Blue Llama
One of the finest university art museums in the country, UMMA holds collections representing 150 yea
A visitor's guide to Ann Arbor