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New Play 'Where the Great Ones Run' is Not a Great One

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Set designer Keith Mitchell's inspired creation of an Indiana truck stop, which greets audiences arriving for the Rogue Machine Theatre company's 2012 season opener, establishes a perfect atmosphere for the saga of a country music star's final homecoming. Unfortunately, "Where the Great Ones Run" by Mark Roberts turns out to be little more than a maudlin family tale of hapless pushovers unafraid to pout directly into the cruel face of fate.

Looking like he just won the Oscar for "Crazy Heart", popular touring singer Sonny Burl (Jeff Kober) returns to the family he hasn't seen in years with terrible news: the doctors give him only three months to live. So with the time remaining him, he resolves to reestablish relations with his wife, daughter and brother and heal the wounds his abandonment had inflicted.

A colorful bunch of locals populates the roadside diner where the action takes place, each with a back story that gets briefly introduced, but hardly developed, over the course of the play's 80-plus minutes. And the sudden turn of events that ends up redirecting the anticipated Burl family rapprochement is a plot point that blatantly falls out of the authorial sky rather than a consequence of any decisions made by the characters onstage.

Kober himself exudes the natural charisma of a talent and personality too large to be contained by the small town he's left behind, nicely counterpointed by Mark St. Amant as the older brother who turned to alcoholism after his own musical talents were eclipsed by Sonny's. Jennifer Pollono livens the proceedings as a naively enthusiastic young diner waitress, and Robert John Brewer's brief appearance as a truck driver with songwriting ambitions is both funny and poignant. But the rest is mostly desultory.

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"Where the Great Ones Run," directed by Mark L. Taylor, plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m, at Theatre/Theater. Full-price tickets $33 ($30 at the door). Tickets also available for $19 at LA Stage Tix, $8-$19.50 on goldstar.