KPBS AIRDATE: March 15, 1991
We’re in a small resort town on the South Carolina coast. We hear the waves lap against the sand, and the clang of a distant lighthouse bell. But soon the seaside silence is shattered. We learn that chemicals and garbage have been dumped in the ocean. And a truckload of metaphorical garbage has been dumped on the lives of Lamar and Price, two troubled semi-siblings.
In fact, “Sun Bearing Down” is sort of an idea and issue dumping-ground for playwright Larry Ketron. He created two multi-layered characters in Price and Lamar, children of different parents who grew up dangerously intimate. Now both their lives are falling apart. The sun – and the sleazy Town Council President Cawhill – are bearing down.
Lamar may lose his seafood restaurant. Price may lose the land she inherited. She’s losing her drug connection. He’s losing his sea wall and his bird sanctuary. She may be a prostitute. He may be indicted for the accidental murder of three trick-or-treaters. At the end, Price may be saved. Lamar may be saved. The environment may be saved.
See what I mean? There’s just too much stuff for two acts and three characters. Oh, and floating along the surface unnecessarily is a fourth: Clint Mallory _ a cute New Jersey college boy Price picks up on the beach. Sometimes he’s dumb. Sometimes he’s macho. Sometimes he has word retrieval problems. Most of the time, he just serves as comic relief, wandering aimlessly onstage at any moment the playwright feels that things are getting too heavy. When the garbage is rising on the beach, so to speak.
So is a mop-up operation possible on this world premiere? Absolutely. The triangle of enmeshment – Price, Lamar and Cawhill – should definitely be recycled, and the environmental issues should be flushed down the toilet. Clint can go back to New Jersey . Some life can be breathed into the dead-fish ending. But the crackling dialogue should be retained, along with the message about hanging on, and letting go. And, by all means, keep the cast.
These are sparkling performances. Bill Geisslinger plays Lamar, the only likable character, with heart-rending resignation. Annette O’Toole’s Price is a queen of cover-up: of her lifestyle, her emotions, and her hysteria. I just wish she were a little more anxious and desperate in her cold-turkey state. Adam Philipson does everything he can to make that dufus Clint believable _ and it almost works. The inconsistencies certainly aren’t his.
And as the contemptible, controlling, redneck stereotype, Cawhill, James Harper is radiant with the sheen of Brylcream, polyester and slime.
The staging is simple, reflecting the fact that the director, Stephen Metcalfe, is a playwright himself; all the focus is on the dialogue. As usual at the Globe, the technical support is flawless. It’s also pleasantly understated.
A little understatement would serve the writing well. Ketron has something to say. But, as Lamar puts it, “The endless flow wears you down.”
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1991 Patté Productions Inc.