In a rundown West Texas bar called the Sundowner Recreational Club, dreams go down as easy as a cold bottle of Pearl Beer and are just as intoxicating.

They are the stuff of life for many of the characters in "The Night Hank Williams Died," Larry King's pungent yet poignant tale of lost loves, missed opportunities, unfulfilled expectations and fatal mistakes.It's not a perfect play, but until it collapses into violent melodrama in Act 2, "The Night Hank Williams Died" has enough low-key charm and homespun humor to soften the hardest of hearts.

Maybe that's because King, the cable television talk show host and author of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," has a jaundiced affection for the folks he has put on stage. It's love but love tempered by the knowledge that most of these people will never amount to very much.

Despite its title, the play has nothing to do with the death of country-western star Hank Williams, although it is set in 1952 and Williams' music wails from the bar's jukebox.

Its main concern is Thurmond Stottle, a one-time high school football hero in the tiny town of Stanley, Texas. Thurmond's gridiron glories were nearly a decade ago. Now he's "27 and working on a beer gut" while he pumps gas at the local service station.

Between customers, Thurmond aspires to be another Hank Williams or at least a songwriter who'll sell his compositions - which have titles like "Little Bitty Bit of Love" - to Nashville stars like Eddy Arnold.

Thurmond is galvanized by the arrival of Nellie Bess Powers, his high school sweetheart. Her marriage to an up-and-coming chiropractor has soured and she has come home "to think about it." Her return rekindles Thurmond's adoration as well as his ambition to make something of himself.

King takes his time churning up the plot, but the wait has its diversions. His dialogue is peppered with down-home conversation, salty, sly and occasionally very funny give-and-take.