Review by Tulis McCall
18 Feb 2010
Intriguing is such a yucky word. Like ‘interesting’ which my mother only used when she didn’t like something but was to chicken to say it out loud. Irish.
But that is the word that keeps coming up with this play. First of all, the writing is more than excellent. Gabe McKinley knows his people and reminds me of Kenny Lonergan who writes about his own people. The Thirty-Something’s in the house were howling at these folk.
Two college chums meet up at a Nowhere Hotel in Atlantic City. They are best friends who meet up once a year for a night of debauchery in all the ways they can remember. There is sex with various women who they rate, ”single girls three points, married women five points,’ the object being that whoever gets to 10 first wins. Hmnnn, almost sounds like Congress, come to think of it.
Anyway, when we meet these two, Max (Michael Weston) is fired up with the requisite alcohol and blow and is ready to go-go-go. Finn (James Roday) is a bit slower on the uptake. Dressed in LL Bean wear, he is uncomfortable and restless. In the 14 months since they last saw each other, the two have drifted apart big time but Finn is the only one who knows it. For Max this weekend is a life preserver. He is on the rebound from burying his mother, who he never liked, but she was still his mother. The tinkle of life’s display windows shattering can be heard in the distance, and he is fighting off the collapse with one hand while snorting up cocaine with the other.
The text of this play is tight and trim. The men speak as if they were tossing a ball back and forth. Sometimes it’s a lob. Other times a knuckle ball. This is a verbal arm wrestling match from the moment it begins.
With the entrance of the two rented women, Missy (Amanda Detmer) and Victoria (Stefanie F. Frame) the conversation keeps its tension and shifts to a deeper level. The evening becomes daring and threatening with a touch of life’s persistent sadness tossed in. In short order we discover elements in each of these people that we didn’t see coming.
Although the writing is spot on, the pacing and structure of this play are not. Nearly a third of the way into this play we discover that Finn has a woman and is expecting a baby, and about halfway in we find out that he is married. These are the burdens he carries and should be the obstacles to everything that follows. However, they arrive way too late and then get lost in the action of the second half of the play. In other words, the play starts out with a bang, but ends up limping to the finish.
What keeps us interested are the fine performances. As Max, Michael Weston crackles. He has more great one-liners than you can count, but manages to deliver each with a spontaneity that makes of his many moments a glorious whole. Somewhat less impressive is James Roday who has a television series, Psych, under his belt but lacks precision onstage. He wanders from one place to another without sitting down – which could have been a directorial choice but the repetition here fails to build any emotion – and runs his hands through his hair so many times you wonder what he’s looking for on that head of his. Amanda Detmer’s Missy is a combination of savvy and resigned. This is a woman who snatches what she wants because she is living a rat hole of a life. She turns on and off at the flick of a switch and lets us see the toll it takes. Stefanie E. Frame as Victoria, in what must be one of the ugliest and uncomfortable outfits ever created, manages to reveal an entire person on the low down in very little time and with very few words.
In an odd way, because of the structural vagueness, it is the two women we care about. The two men share a banter and a loneliness that doesn’t let us in very far, even though they are a pleasure on which to eavesdrop. In the end I was left impressed with the writing and performances, and wondering why Extinction was written.
Intriguing. See what I mean?