Review by Tulis McCall
(16 Feb 2011)
This is almost a fascinating play. Rob Benson has an ear for character and dialogue, but the design and direction nearly conspire to pull this production off the track.
Warren (Rob Benson) and Chris (Roger Clark) meet in their father’s apartment to clean out the detritus of a life ill-lived. This is an apartment that makes the set of True West look tame. Every square inch is covered with junk that includes a substantial collection of whiskey bottles and instant cameras. Over the course of their meeting we find out about their estrangement, Warren’s OCD, and Chris’s failed marriage.
In the second act we see what Chris never tells his brother, that he and his father Graham (John Michalski) spent an evening together in the same flat after a chance meeting. They drank and laughed and quarreled. And during one o Chris’s long diatribes, Graham keeled over. When Chris realized what happened, he left the flat without calling anyone.
It is an intriguing story, but in this incarnation there is an over abundance of garbage and a lack of consistent direction. The garbage is strewn around the set without a pattern. I have created a lot of messes in my life, seriously serious messes, and if you were to enter any one of them and ask where something was, I could probably find it for you. Garbage leaves a trail and tells a story. On this set it does neither and thereby creates a void instead of a foundation.
The actors are also inconsistent in their approach to the work. Warren is supposed to have OCD, but he handles the garbage with relative ease, only pausing to stack the pieces he is putting in bags. Benson’s entrance and much of his performance is littered with one indication after another. He is giving us what he thinks Warren’s actions should look like instead of feeling them and letting the appearance take care of itself. Only when his dialogue locks on to a trajectory do we see a glimmer of who this man is.
Clark is hobbled not only by the garbage but the lack of any action other than to talk. Does he pack or attack? It doesn’t matter much. And Michalski spends the entire second act in a chair because there is simply not enough room on the crowded set to do anything else.
And WHEN will actors drink out of a bottle onstage and not hold it by the neck? I have never seen anyone take a slug out of a bottle holding it by the neck (just as I have never seen anyone hold a coffee cup with two hands except on a stage.) Pet peeve – but can you blame me?????
But like I said this is an intriguing story. There is a lot in this writing that is almost Pinter-esque. Underneath all the flotsam I thought I heard some damn good writing. What I think this script needs is a nearly bare set that lets the characters have at each other without tripping over empty food cartons. It needs quality garbage and precise direction so that the text can be heard above the din of too much stuff and too few objectives. In this production, what these characters want from one another remains a buried mystery.
What the popular press said...
"This 80-minute play never satisfactorily coalesces. ... effortful, overly studied work."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage