Do you like old-style country ballads? You can hear them to your heart’s content in Always…Patsy Cline.

 Ted Swindley’s two-woman play tells the fact-based story of the friendship that develops between the singer and Louise Seger, a divorced Texas mom. The seeds of the relationship are sown after Louise watches Cline compete on Arthur Godfrey’s TV talent show in the late 1950s.

 Immediately becoming Cline’s biggest fan, Louise bugs a Houston radio deejay to play her tunes. Then, in the early 1960s, she has a chance to see the singer live at a local honky-tonk club. Arriving hours before the band has even shown up, Louise runs into her idol and is surprised to find she’s just a down-to-earth Southern gal who happens to have a rich voice.

 Really, there’s not much more that happens in the two-act play, except for a whole lot of classic country tunes. In CATCO’s production, directed by Steven C. Anderson, those tunes are gorgeously delivered by Katie Deal.

 No doubt Deal is an accomplished singer in her own right, but in this show she’s pure Patsy Cline. I’m not enough of a Cline aficionado to know if she gets every rendition exactly right, but I suspect she’s very close. Whether she’s sliding between notes, growling out a syllable or singing sad lyrics with the requisite tear in her voice, she sounds very authentic.

 It’s not a static performance. In her early appearances on the Godfrey show, her Cline comes off as a bit stagey, but by the time she makes her appearance in Houston, she’s learned how to disappear into her songs. Her renditions of “Crazy” and other bittersweet ballads are simply mesmerizing.

 Working under Matt Clemens’s musical direction, the four-piece band also seems to grow as the evening progresses. It seems a bit robotic at first, but it provides sensitive accompaniment for the show’s most heartfelt tunes.

 Along with all the great music, the show owes much its success to Kristie Koehler Vuocolo’s portrayal of Louise. Perhaps her greatest accomplishment is that she gets us to laugh with this star-struck Texan rather than at her. She also works tirelessly to keep the audience involved, even pulling a man out of the front row for an impromptu polka.

 Behind the scenes, Jarod Wilson’s lighting underscores the show’s changing moods, while Michael S. Brewer’s simple set mostly just stays out of the way.

Since the action takes place on a three-sided stage, the most important scenery really consists of the rapt viewers across the way.

 Marcia Hain’s costume designs also play an important role, Cline appearing in ever-changing wardrobe of sparkly dresses and cowgirl outfits, while Louise prances around in Western-style casual duds.

 Patsy Cline left us long before she should have—a sad fact that gives the show its unhappiest moment—but Deal’s facsimile temporarily brings her back to life.

As a bonus, she even stays around for an encore. CATCO will present Always…Patsy Cline through June 22 in the Riffe Center’s Studio Two, 77 S. High St. Show times are 11 a.m. Wednesday (except June 18), 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Running time: 2 hours (including intermission). Tickets are $11 for Wednesday matinees, $41 on Thursday and Sunday, $45 Friday and Saturday. 614-469-0939 or

Campy convent awakens cinematic memories

 There’s a flashback scene in The Divine Sister that finally makes it clear what playwright Charles Busch is up to. Crime reporters Jeremy (Ralph Scott) and Susan (Doug Joseph) meet and begin trading the kind of fast-paced patter that typified screwball comedies of the 1930s and ’40s.

 Aha! Busch is spoofing vintage Hollywood. Since most of his tale takes place in and around a Pittsburgh convent in the 1960s, it appears that his main target is Hollywood’s portrayal of nuns and other religious types.

 That helps to explain a play that otherwise comes off as a sporadically funny but unfocused collection of campy stereotypes and soapy plot twists. At least, it seemed that way at last Thursday’s preview performance of Short North Stage’s new production.

 Part of the problem may be that most of us aren’t as familiar with classic Hollywood flicks as Busch is. But I suspect things will become clearer once director Geoffrey Nelson and his cast do a little honing.

 One of the pitfalls of campy comedy is that it’s tempting to over-emote, earning easy laughs while diverting attention from the play’s overriding themes. Two of the cast members are particularly prone to this.

 Meg Chamberlain throws subtlety to the wind as athletic coach Sister Acacius, bellowing in an East Coast accent and strutting around with a mannish gait.

Likewise, Cheryl McFarren pulls out all the ethnic stops as the German Sister Walburga and Irish-American housekeeper Mrs. MacDuffe.

 Both actors get laughs, but a bit more restraint on their parts might benefit the show as a whole.

 Other cast members generally do less chewing on Edith D. Wadkins’s full-featured scenery. They’re led by Joseph, whose Susan has morphed into the Mother Superior of a struggling convent and parochial school. As played by the cross-dressing Joseph, she rules her Catholic roost with a firm but kindhearted hand.

 Scott shows his usual flair for droll humor as Jeremy, her former colleague and lover, who now works for a film studio. Even funnier is his secondary role, a lisping, shadowy figure named Brother Venerius.

 Erin Mellon is lovably kooky as Agnes, the postulant who unknowingly brought Jeremy to Pittsburgh because her alleged divine visions make her a potential movie subject. Josie Merkle ably pulls double duty as Mrs. Levinson, a wealthy atheist, and Tommy, a young student who seems to be a target for school bullies.

 Even though the production isn’t as funny as it might be, it still has many laugh-worthy moments. If the cast benefits from the notes director Nelson was busily taking at last week’s preview, it likely will have many more of them by the time you see it.

 Short North Stage will present The Divine Sister through June 15 in the Green Room of the Garden Theater, 1187 N. High St. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Running time: 2 hours (including intermission).

Tickets are $25-$30. 614-725-4042 or