The Play

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 963

Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander opens in the living room of the Hampton house in Bradleyville, Texas, in 1953. Teenage Lu Ann Hampton runs into the house dressed in her Bradleyville High School cheerleading uniform, followed by boyfriend Billy Bob Wortman. He is dressed in a white shirt, Levi’s, boots, and a Bradleyville High School letter sweater. Billy Bob is a typical small-town boy of the 1950’s, except that today his hair is green. The basketball players decided to startle the school at this morning’s pep rally.

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Lu Ann and Billy Bob argue about going to the senior picnic in a pickup truck instead of in his father’s car. In a bit of foreshadowing, Lu Ann tells him that he sounds like a preacher. After he leaves, Claudine Hampton enters to ask about the pep rally. She expresses concern about her son, Skip Hampton, a Korean veteran who spends too much time in Red’s Bar.

They discuss Lu Ann’s plans, or lack of any, for life after graduation. Claudine says that she can get Lu Ann a job at the hospital where Claudine works. Lu Ann wants to get out of town, out of state. They are interrupted by Skip’s entrance with Dale Laverty, an old army buddy. It is apparent that Skip is already an aimless drunk, full of war stories and hot air. As the buddies exit for Red’s Bar, Dale asks Lu Ann if he may call her. Interested in his automobile and angry with Billy Bob, she says yes. At the curtain, she tells herself that Dale Laverty is a pretty name.

Act 2 opens in Red’s Bar. Ten years have passed. Red Grover is watching Rufe Phelps and Olin Potts play checkers and argue, a nightly ritual. The audience learns from their small talk that Skip Hampton got drunk on Thunderbird wine in Red’s the night before and cut his throat with a broken beer bottle. He is in the hospital. They also mention Lu Ann’s divorce. Lu Ann enters, wearing a beautician’s uniform. She says that she could have had her own beauty shop if “that worthless Dale Laverty” had not left her to bring up their daughter, Charmaine, by herself.

Corky Oberlander, a highway inspector, comes in and is introduced to Lu Ann. Their conversation gives the audience the highlights of Lu Ann’s life since graduation. She asks him what kind of car he has. She tells him that she went to her senior picnic in her boyfriend’s father’s Hudson. He asks her for a dinner date. After he leaves, she says, at the curtain, that “Corky Oberlander is a right pretty name.”

Act 3 opens in 1973, in the Hampton house. The radio has been replaced by a television set and the slipcovers are different. Charmaine, the “act 1 image of Lu Ann,” is arguing with her uncle, Skip. She tells him that the whole town has called him “Crazy Skip Hampton” ever since he cut his throat and went to a mental hospital. She tells Skip that she went to San Angelo to see what her father looked like: “Old, fat, and kind of dumb-lookin’, you know. God, what a letdown.”

Lu Ann comes home with the groceries. She is wearing a Howdy Wagon uniform. She says “we said howdy to fifteen new families today.” Skip tries to wheedle her out of a dollar for supper at the local restaurant. She refuses, reminding him that she arranged for a running tab at the restaurant, which she pays, and that the last time she gave him cash he wound up in a mental hospital.

Billy Bob Wortman appears at the front door. In the ensuing conversation, the audience learns that he was graduated from Texas Christian University and is a preacher in Kansas City, married, and the father of four boys. He and his family have traveled all over the world on his missionary work. Lu Ann tells him that she takes care of her mother, left paralyzed and mute by a stroke.

The two reminisce about the past, and Lu Ann refers to the day of the senior picnic, when she stood up Billy Bob and ran off to San Angelo with Dale Laverty. Billy Bob slips for a moment from his formal “preacher English” into his native West Texas dialect, but he catches himself up with “It’s a waste of the Lord’s time to dwell on the past.” She replies:The Lord’s got lots of time to waste. It’s us the clock runs down on! You know, Billy Bob, it’s a funny thing, but ah’m about the same age mah mama was when you and me was in high school. My God, ain’t that somethin? It’s like I was her and Charmaine was me and ever’ body round us got old and different lookin’.

Lu Ann wheels in her mother, who sits in her wheelchair, mute and uncomprehending, while Billy Bob tries to make polite conversation with her. He tells Lu Ann he can help her put her mother in a nursing home. Lu Ann says that she cannot do that:. . . at least thisaway the burden is mostly on my body—if ah sent her off somewhere, the burden would be on my heart. You know, Billy Bob, them doctors told me that Mama would be a vegetable for the rest of her life—can you imagine that? A vegetable! Hell, my mama ain’t no vegetable, she’s a flower, a great old big pretty flower.

After Billy Bob leaves, Lu Ann says, “ah jest never could cotton to that boy’s name. Billy Bob Wortman. Why it’s jest plain silly-soundin’.” The curtain falls.

Dramatic Devices

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 375

Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander might be described as West Texas Chekhov. The big events happen not only offstage but also between the acts: Two marriages, pregnancy and birth, divorce, attempted suicide, a fatal accident, and a stroke occur between the times depicted in acts 1 and 2 and those in 2 and 3. Consequently, the characters primarily give the audience the necessary exposition of events and actions that have led to the present onstage moment. In addition, they reveal their habitual actions through their discussions and arguments about those actions.

Though the action is confined to only two sets, the Hampton living room in acts 1 and 3 and Red’s Bar in act 2, references to people and places not depicted place the characters in the larger context of the town and region. Milo Crawford, the class nerd in 1953, is mentioned in acts 1 and 3 and makes a brief appearance in act 2. Another classmate is mentioned in acts 1 and 3 but never appears. Lu Ann’s mother reminisces about her own dates with that classmate’s father. These references function to bind the three acts together and to reinforce the sameness of the lives of the three generations.

Lu Ann wears a uniform in each act; these uniforms symbolize the stages in her life. In act 1, in her cheerleader’s uniform, she sees her future without realizing it in her mother, who wears a hospital uniform. In act 2, she wears a beautician’s outfit; in act 3, the Howdy Wagon uniform. The repetition of her fondness for “pretty names” and her interest in the kinds of cars her men drive reinforce the definition by labels: automobiles, uniforms, and finally the accretion of names. Lu Ann Hampton becomes Lu Ann Hampton Laverty becomes Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander. The living room set of acts 1 and 3, with the radio replaced by the television, as an automobile replaces another automobile, as one uniform replaces another, encloses both literally and dramatically the theme of the cumulative effects of the passing of time on a life without inner definition. In the final act, the house encloses all three generations, with the younger version of Lu Ann, her daughter, as uncomprehending of the future represented by her mother and her grandmother as Lu Ann once was of her own.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 75

Sources for Further Study

Bennett, Patrick. Talking with Texas Writers: Twelve Interviews. College Station: Texas A&M Press, 1980.

Busby, Mark. Preston Jones. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Press, 1983.

Jones, Preston. “Author’s Note.” In The Texas Trilogy. New York: Hill & Wang, 1976.

Jones, Preston. “Tales of a Pilgrim’s Progress: From Bradleyville to Broadway.” Dramatists Guild, Winter, 1977, 7-18.

Kerr, Walter. “The Buildup (and Letdown) of Texas Trilogy.” New York Times, October 3, 1976, p. D3, D6.

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