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And they're off 

Musical Moonshine views racing through a time warp

Music fuels the motor of 7 Stages' Blue Ridge Moonshine Flyer, a car-racin', guitar-twangin', time-warpin' show that resists a simple recap. Local rockabilly musicians Slim Chance, Bobby Don Bloodworth and Bill Fleming wrote the songs and provide the show's "house band," with Fleming also credited with conceiving the play.

The toe-tapping songs would fit right in on a honky-tonk jukebox, but they drive a plot that's totally "tetched" in the head, the kind of thing you might dream after suffering sun-stroke at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Modern-day racer Trey Thompson (Michael Schneider) has an auto accident at the track and somehow gets flung back to the birth of stock-car racing in 1933.

A 21st-century racer in the 1930s is an odd sight, almost as strange as seeing such a fun, silly show at 7 Stages. For decades the playhouse has blazed trails in edgy, avant-garde drama, and even its comedies, usually by the likes of Ionesco and Dario Fo, have plenty of intellectual heft. Directed by Del Hamilton, Blue Ridge Moonshine Flyer is blissfully free of heady artistic aspirations and proves refreshingly breezy. 7 Stages might be a little rusty at such entertainments, making for a bumpy ride at times, but this show is hard to dislike.

We meet Trey in the present-day scenes, when he's a young racing contender following in the footsteps of his father, a moonshine runner turned race mechanic. The title song tells the story of his crusty dad (Marc Cram) making moonshine from a still and leading the cops on a merry chase, which goes through the audience.

One minute Trey's competing at a race called "The Steroids 500," the next he's 70 years in the past, stranded just outside Buck's Motor Barn in Blue Ridge, Ga. He befriends a couple of grease monkeys (Cram and Steve Westdahl) and an out-of-place lady mechanic named Chase (Marcie Millard).

Trey's not so concerned with getting home that he doesn't take the time to woo Chase, and they kick up their heels at a Future Farmers of America dance. But there he also meets Isabel (Kristi Casey), a femme fatale with an endless cigarette holder who belts "There's a Brand New Honkytonk Angel in Town." Isabel and Chase each have designs for Trey, whose actions could change mankind's reliance on fossil fuels and could lead to World War III.

Moonshine is filled with amusing, inventive details. The set looks like the broad side of the barn, and the cast travels in fake cars that resemble soapbox derby racers. Time-shifting fires the production's imagination, with an interlude in 1976 providing an excuse for garish Me-Decade fashions, and a jaunt to the year 2252 leads to robotic choreography for the number "Hot Town." On opening night, cast, crew and audience mingled before show time, with Westdahl handing out Moon Pies to the audience.

Cram has plenty of mock-serious expressions that suit the irreverent, anything-goes material very well. Westdahl and band members like Scott Depoy also provide comic support to Schneider and Millard, who play more traditional musical leads.

But Moonshine's scenes that don't involve zany effects feel flat and directionless, with the dramatic scenes in Wade Marbaugh's book lacking narrative juice. In the absence of songs, the actors look at a loss amid the haphazard plot. At some points we get primed for storylines that never kick in: Trey's in the same era as his father and late uncle, making us expect an encounter that never comes. The attempts at quippy dialogue -- "Hold the cell phone, lady" -- sound forced.

When the play stops to argue the merits of ethanol and other alternative energy sources, the problem isn't Millard's earnest delivery of her lines or the nagging nature of an otherwise admirable message. It's that the show itself takes the points with deadly seriousness when a more campy approach could get the word out without losing its sense of humor.

But you probably shouldn't expect an air-tight plot in a show that concludes with laser-toting mutants pursuing the heroes in a chase reminiscent of The Monkees' TV series. Moonshine would rather argue whether Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt was the greatest racer who ever lived than worry about being a well-made play. In one of the show's nutty highlights, Fleming steps from behind his pedal steel guitar, exploiting his casual resemblance to one of auto racing's legendary figures.

Instead of looking too hard at the show's mechanics, audiences should instead clap along to roadhouse numbers like the title song ("Blue Ridge Moonshine Flyer / Burnin' rubber! Belchin' fire!"). If not exactly a day at the races, the show suggests what you'd get if you put Back to the Future's engine under the hood of Elvis Presley's Spinout.

curt.holman@creativeloafing.com

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