Pretty much anything can happen when two guys start chatting over flamingo-tinis at a bar in Fort Worth, Texas. Or so it might seem, in the marvelous two-hander The Ballad of Bobby Botswain, written and performed by Jonathan Fielding and Jason Lambert, now playing at the Harbor Stage Company in Wellfleet.
The bar is unattended when Lambert, playing the tightly wound T. Peter, walks in. Fielding’s character, Middy — short for Middleton, he tells us — already has a seat, and he watches and offers a few forced smiles at T. Peter, who initially seems reluctant to strike up a connection.
In the context of the Outer Cape, such a forward introduction by Middy might be construed as having a sexual undercurrent, but there’s actually something quite different going on, though equally charged. T. Peter, when he finally opens up, reveals that he’s here to meet a certain someone, Bobby Botswain.
With the continued absence of the bartender, Middy decides to make T. Peter a drink, and mixes up a couple of flamingo-tinis with a generous helping of maraschino cherries, which, he says, he particularly likes.
Botswain, T. Peter says, is a pharmacist. He’s supposed to supply T. Peter with medicine for his mother, which he does at an affordable rate. T. Peter insists that there’s something special about Botswain, at one point claiming that he can perform “miracles.”
But Middy, suspiciously, already knows this. He happens to be after Botswain himself, and he has the law on his side. The pursuit of Botswain — a kind of magical-realist Godot who does, in fact, appear — and his supply of medicinal drugs sets in motion a series of scenes and locations (without intermission) in which Middy and T. Peter vie for control. It’s a highly digressive struggle, however, and the complications that ensue are utterly hilarious, even though life and death are sometimes at stake.
Fielding, whose bio in the show’s program says he’s “from Fort Worth, TX, y’all,” is one of the founders of Harbor Stage, an actor-run company that occasionally generates its own plays. Lambert is a veteran performer with the company, most recently in Glengarry Glen Ross. The Ballad of Bobby Botswain, which is having its world premiere in Wellfleet this summer, is an actors’ exercise that strolls, trots, and gallops its way to becoming a thoroughly entertaining and darkly comic tall tale about the current state of health care. It will have audiences pondering its twists and theatrical flourishes, with varying interpretations of what it’s all about, all of them doubtless correct.
No director is credited, and it’s clear that Fielding and Lambert have conjured their characters through a process that is all their own — they even move the props around themselves between scenes. Middy is sly and cocky, with a dash of self-effacing honesty; T. Peter is bumbling yet determined, with a halting manner and inarticulate gestures that elicit guiltless laughter — he’s oblivious to his own weirdness. Their interplay is a well-oiled machine: there’s nothing stagey about it, and the humor is natural and sweet.
Behind the good-old-boy matchup is splendid craft. The set, by Seancolin Hankins, functions as a bar, a jail, and Bobby Botswain’s pharmacy with equal dispatch. The lighting (by Harbor Stage resident designer John R. Malinowski) and sound (by J Hagenbuckle) allow the play’s many shifts to flow effortlessly.
But at the center are Fielding and Lambert and their intricate tango with mixed drinks, mustaches, handcuffs, and gunshots. There is something about Fielding’s winking charm and Lambert’s gruff righteousness that feels like an invitation to the audience to join in on the game. That’s because their folly is ours, caught in a crazy system that only a Bobby Botswain can cure.
Lone Star Duet
The event: The Ballad of Bobby Botswain, a new play by Jonathan Fielding and Jason Lambert
The time: Through Aug. 6, Thursday through Saturday (and Wednesday, Aug. 3) at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 5 p.m.
The place: Harbor Stage Company, 15 Kendrick Ave., Wellfleet
The cost: $25, at harborstage.org or 508-349-6800