"Uh, Breaker One-Nine, this here's the Rubber Duck. You got a copy on me, Pig-Pen? C'mon." With those words began C.W. McCall's "Convoy," one of the more successful novelty songs by a one-hit wonder to top the charts. McCall was actually a pseudonym for William Dale Fries, a Midwestern ad man who faked a conversation about traffic peril at the height of the citizens band (CB) radio craze. The song gave birth to the 1978 Sam Peckinpah film and now is reincarnated in the form of Lady Convoy, BRATPAK Productions' entry into this year's New York International Fringe Festival.
Given that the song itself is only about two minutes long, the plot of both the film and the play is rather slight. A tough-talkin' lady trucker (Kelly Rauch) known by her CB handle, Rubber Duck, picks up a hitchhiker (Gene Gallerano). It doesn't take long before she and her trucker friend Love Machine (Lucy Smith) find themselves fleeing the law, embodied by a corrupt sheriff and a governor with a secret. Soon enough, Rubber Duck becomes a renegade folk hero on the CB circuit.
Admittedly, the joy of this Lady is not what it's about; it's how it goes about it. BRATPAK mined theatrical gold earlier this season with its adaptation of the John Hughes film The Breakfast Club, and it now manages to find humor from an even more obscure source. Robert Ross Parker's direction keeps the ball rolling, which is also a testament to the lack of filler in Ken Gallo's script. The show pulls the audience in and does not let go for 75 minutes.
The amazing thing is what great characters Parker's ensemble manages to create from such a thin blueprint. Smith is an absolute hoot as Love Machine, a volcano of energy waiting to erupt, but also a character full of love. Brad Thomason, as Sheriff Lyle McGee, Rubber Duck's main nemesis, delivers a devilish turn, abetted nicely by Sam Schamberg as his deputy, who steals every scene in which he appears with his subtle facial tics and tongue-in-cheek responses to Thomason. And Sean Doran proves highly amusing playing several different characters, including a reporter and one example of the many men whom Rubber Duck loves and leaves.
But Lady rests on the impressively buff shoulders of its star, and it begs a question: Is there anything Rauch can't do? Her cocky, earthy Rubber Duck is a stark contrast to her performance as Claire in The Breakfast Club, a proper, popular girl in high school who's a wholly insecure mess. In both shows, Rauch emerges as a master of physical comedy and broadly expressive facial gestures (her slow burn is so dead-on it rivals Kelsey Grammer's on Frasier).
And while Rauch effortlessly commands the stage, she seems unafraid to share it with co-stars Gallerano and Smith and is quite generous in her scenes with them. She suggests this generation's answer to the similarly versatile Julianne Moore, though if Rauch were to pursue a film career, she would leave a large void in the downtown theater scene.
Lady faced quite a few hurdles in finding its way to the stage. Based on a film that relied largely on desert location shoots and inspired by an old country-western song that few remember, it lacks the built-in audience base that so many other shows at the Fringe rely on. Instead, it earns its audience the old-fashioned way, through solid writing and performances. In other words, the kind of traditional values that would make Rubber Duck proud.