Intense Sam Shepard drama gets a great going-over at New Village Arts
If you don’t like grunge, violence, depravity and degradation, mixed with a little caustic humor (that is, if Sam Shepard isn’t your cup of dramatic tea), perhaps “Simpatico” isn’t for you.
But if you relish sinking your teeth into deep, edge-of-your seat drama, head right over to New Village Arts Theatre for their terrific production of Shepard’s 1993 play (made into a 1999 movie).
Vinnie, Carter and Rosie grew up in Cucamonga, CA where, 15 years ago, they pulled off a thoroughbred racing scam, switching two lookalike horses to make some fast cash, and then framing the commissioner who was about to investigate, setting him up for a sex scandal that cost him his job, family and reputation.
Carter has gone on to greater glory in the racing world, living high on the hog in Kentucky, having driven off years ago in Vinnie’s 1958 Buick with Vinnie’s wife, Rosie. Carter has been paying out big-time hush-money to his partner in crime, but now Vinnie (“Crisis is my middle name”) wants to even the score. He threatens blackmail, which enmeshes Carter, Rosie, the former commissioner, and Vinnie’s new sort-of girlfriend.
As in Shepard’s earlier work, “True West” (1980), the antithetical ‘brothers’ (these two have been joined at the hip since 6th grade, so they might as well be sibs) wind up switching roles, with Carter curled up in a drunken fetal ball at the end, just the way we met Vinnie at the outset.
The twists and turns of the plot involve shifting loyalties (can anyone be trusted in a Shepard play?), not to mention guilt, greed, vengeance, mendacity, savagery, and heaping doses of amorality. The brilliant playwright/actor/director loves to poke holes in the mythology of the American West and shine a grimy spotlight on those self-indulgent scalawags who live on the fringes of our so-called civilized society.
Now in their tenth year of operation, New Village has a special affinity for Shepard; this is their fifth Shepard production. Ace director Lisa Berger has a knack for attracting a killer cast, and encouraging them to dig deep; she and her superb ensemble make these sleazy scoundrels compulsively watchable.
As the seediest of the bunch, at least at the beginning, Manny Fernandes puts in his best performance ever as the dissipated, inebriated Vinnie, who can erupt into violence on zero provocation. Mike Sears’ Carter is right up there with him, tightly wrapped and nicely dressed, but losing his cool on a dime, then quickly reverting back to the “apologetic menace” his wife ascribes to him. Sears’ obsessive fastidiousness is the perfect counterpart to Vinnie and his raunchy, filthy digs (wonderfully detailed multi-level set by Tim Wallace, beautifully lit by Justin Hall).
Jack Missett provides most of the comic relief, as the aging former commissioner who’s changed his name and tried to put the past behind him, but still seethes with suppressed anger and sexuality. Terri Park, far too rarely seen on local stages, provides a delicious cameo as the long-legged seductress Rosie. Kim Strassburger is a delight as Vinnie’s squeeze, Cecilia, a lot less innocent and wide-eyed than she first appears, but perhaps the only grounded/principled person onstage. (The commissioner has his moments, and as Rosie’s maid, Kelly Iversen has her doubts).
If you can hack the duration, the intensity and the skin-crawling grittiness, you’re guaranteed to have one heckuva time at the theater.
“Simpatico” runs through 3/27 at New Village Arts Theatre.
Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8pm; Saturday at 3pm and Sunday at 2pm.
Tickets ($25-30) are available at 760-433-3245 or newvillagearts.org