Have you ever driven by one of those sad, rundown bars on the outskirts of town and wondered what goes on inside? I’ve always wanted to stop and take a peek, but out of fear for my own safety and respect for those who call those places “theirs,” I stay away. “The Doyle and Debbie Show” at the Garner theater through July 14 invites us intrepid types in for a sneak peek at life on the rougher side of chance, and it delivers it with humor, heart and a surprising amount of hipster.
The show revolves around two central characters, with a trusty ol’ sidekick Buddy (sweetly played by Matthew Carlton). Doyle (brilliantly captured by Bruce Arntson) is an aging singer/songwriter whose time really never came, and has mostly gone. But he’s still hanging on and, with his newest Debbie, committed to “Performing all their top hits to the very best of their ability.” He knows his talent is rivaled and threatened by his new “Third Debbie” (she has no other name), but he needs her. Doyle tolerates Debbie only for her voice, breasty stage presence and desperation. She fills the boots left by her predecessors so his namesake show can go on. Their off stage relationship is painful to watch, and we feel for Debbie even as we laugh at her trailer trash life woes. Actress Jennifer Blood brings Debbie to life, one song at a time, and her talent is far bigger than the Garner’s tiny stage. Her voice is true, powerful and full of nuance. Bravely she portrays a woman pained by a past gone wrong, striving for self-empowerment, with humor and physicality. When she belts out a tune, you will find it a gift to be in Ms. Blood’s company.
Driving the show’s success are the lyrics of the 16 tunes – listen carefully! From the “done me wrong” country music tradition, “When You’re Screwing Other Women, Think of Me,” to the good-natured yet slightly edgy “I Ain’t No Homo,” to the timely “ABCs of Love,” and hilarious “Barefoot and Pregnant,” each delivers a punch of humor with a kernel of truth. Crafting these magical nuggets is the real life Doyle – Bruce Arntson. Known for his role in the goofy “Ernest” comedies, this is his first foray into full-length theater, and he has hit gold. Bruce is a talented comedic actor and brings “Doyle” to life with round-eyed wonder. Let’s ignore the tedious and unnecessary stage antics involving being momentarily possessed by his deceased father. His country singing talent is real, especially impressive are his skat-like vocals and yodeling skills that hits ladies like Debbie in just the right “spot.” Who knew yodeling was so sexy!
Doyle is not a completely likable character. Thankfully Bruce leaves an edge to him that prevents Doyle from being a complete caricature. The show gets off to a hokey start, and you may wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into. But relax, take a swig off your beer, and by the third song, you’re in for a joyride. By the end of the show, you’ll love Doyle and Debbie, and cheer for more.
One more note…
Stepping into the Garner, you’ll immediately be immersed in a honky-tonk atmosphere thanks to some clever decorating. Kudos to the Denver Center Attractions staff – it really sets the mood of being in a third-rate Nashville dive bar. This is not your typical Denver Theater experience – so boost the fun by dressing the part yourself – pull on those cowboy boots, denim jeans and fringed skirts. Be a loud and boisterous bar crowd when Doyle and Debbie sing for ya! Let loose and whoop and holler along- YEEHAW!
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