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Bryan Mercer and Marissa Toogood play Walter and Marley in the Hippodrome's "Lone Star Spirits." The two characters have a strained father-daughter relationship, which is one of the key focal points of the play.

 
 

An ex-football hero, his high school sweetheart and a pioneer ghost walk into a liquor store — but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

The Hippodrome State Theatre’s latest production “Lone Star Spirits,” a play written by playwright Josh Tobiessen, ushers in a comical story of family and superstition, as well as a new feat for the Gainesville theater.

For the first time, the Hippodrome is co-presenting two productions with St. Petersburg’s freeFall Theatre. The Hippodrome will show “Lone Star Spirits” from Jan. 24 through Feb. 16, after which the show, including the cast and set, will travel to freeFall Theatre and run from Feb. 29 through March 29.

“Lone Star Spirits” is a silly but heart-warming comedy that takes place in a Texas liquor store. It features a bold, seamless cast that ties together all the emotions and idiosyncrasies that make friends and family one.

Distantly reminiscent of Netflix’s original sitcom “The Ranch,” the play focuses on the arrival of Marley, played by Marissa Toogood, a former small-town girl who is visiting her estranged father Walter, played by Bryan Mercer, the owner of a local liquor store. Complicating the arrival of Marley and her fiancé is her ex-boyfriend Drew played by Haulston Mann, a high school football legend who refuses to let go of his former glory and re-sets his sights on his former sweetheart. 

Absurdly funny and surprisingly heartfelt, “Lone Star Spirits” illustrates the subtle tensions that arise from troubled relationships, and tastes like the bittersweet nostalgia of years past and things that could’ve been.

Although the entire play is accompanied by the presence of Henry, the spirit of the bear-wrestling pioneer that Drew and Walter always drink to without fail, it goes without saying that the most haunting ghost in the story is the lingering presence of words unspoken, and time lost for each of the individuals in it.

The play succeeds so spectacularly at this message with the strength of its cast. Familiar Hippodrome names Mercer and Toogood perfectly encompass the strained father-daughter relationship of Walter and Marley, while Mann’s portrayal of Drew is as daftly hilarious as he is charming.

“It’s very easy to find yourself in a lot of these different characters,” Toogood said. “They’re so beautifully written but they’re so imperfect in such wonderful ways. I think a lot of us can relate to going home, and home is always different when you go back.”

The second production of the Hippodrome’s collaboration with freeFall Theatre will be “Marie & Rosetta,” a show produced by freeFall Theatre that will then head to Gainesville and run from Feb. 28 through March 22.

Stephanie Lynge, the Hippodrome’s artistic director and director of “Lone Star Spirits,” is optimistic about the co-productions and thinks it is a great opportunity for the two theaters.

“It gives us a way to kind of cross-pollinate on the artistic side,” Lynge said. “It really allows us to grow artistically, and it’s also a way for us to stay fiscally responsible in these much tighter economic times.”

“Lone Star Spirits” will be on stage seven shows a week beginning Jan. 24. Tickets can be purchased online through the Hippodrome’s website.