Theater review: Aurora harvests a banner ‘Singles in Agriculture’

Judge not lest ye be judged. Just when you might think you have Abby Rosebrock’s comedy “Singles in Agriculture” easily pegged, are you ever in for an amazing and welcome surprise — a number of them, actually.

The seemingly pedestrian premise is this: Two Southern hayseeds meet at an annual convention for eligible farmers. Joel is a God-fearing Christian, if a rather timid stick in the mud in terms of his facility for social (let alone romantic) interaction. By contrast, Priscilla comes on decidedly strong, initially like some kind of a boisterous, buxom bimbo.

That opposites frequently attract is hardly an original concept. And yet, from a generic Galveston motel room, their correspondingly run-of-the-mill one-night stand gradually and beautifully develops into an unexpectedly thoughtful and heartfelt affair. They both know their Bible, but around the time they start sharing observations about “Oedipus Rex,” clearly something more substantial and meaningful has taken hold.

When they eventually and wistfully tell each other, “You could’ve gone to college,” it’s the ultimate compliment. And it’s to Rosebrock’s infinite credit that we, too, really believe that they could have, that there’s so much more to them than meets the eye, a greater depth and purpose that belies the first impressions they make as potentially stereotypical country bumpkins.

Under the astute direction of the prolific and ever-enterprising Justin Anderson, Aurora Theatre’s production of the play also benefits immensely from a pair of extraordinary performances by co-stars Jeremy Aggers and Lauren Boyd. Call them a match made in heaven, in more ways than one — as characters and as actors. (The remarkably mundane set, by the way, is designed by Trevor Carrier.)

Boyd obviously has the flashier role, although she is no less persuasive portraying the internal fortitude beneath Priscilla’s superficial exterior. A minor quibble (at least on opening night) is that, on occasion, she almost breaks character and cracks a smile when one of her lines gets a big laugh from the audience (which is often), and, at other times, some of her dialogue is lost altogether when she tries to talk over that laughter.

For his part, Aggers brilliantly delineates the many layers of what Joel refers to as his “hypothetical thought processes.” He’s essentially the straight man when it comes to the show’s comedic inclinations, but he brings a skillful nuance to its dramatic departures. In confessional moments about Joel’s “social incompetence” and sexual inadequacy, or when he talks about “looking low to the ground,” too ashamed to even face the livestock of his failing farm, it breaks your heart.

And then it happens again. No sooner do you start wondering whether the play may be getting a little too serious than actress Vallea E. Woodbury arrives late on the scene with a hilarious turn as a motel security guard.

Life is filled with ups and downs, of course, and “Singles in Agriculture” demonstrates it with a grace and conviction that’s as admirable as it is rare.

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