KPBS AIRDATE: May 16, 2003
Life can be a dark and dirty business. That is, if you believe playwrights Sam Shepard and Karoline Leach. One American, one Brit. One play garnered the Pulitzer Prize- in 1979; the other is a first dramatic effort, which premiered in London in 1997. But the picture they paint, of rootlessness and spiritual emptiness, wrecking the myth of human kindness, spans decades and continents. One is a far better work; the other gets a consistently better production. So harden your heart and take your pick.
Sam Shepard once said he started writing “to keep from going off the deep end.” But that never stopped his characters from doing so. Recently, in an unprecedented act, he revisited and revised his Pulitzer-winning “Buried Child.” The play, set in the American heartland, is emblematic of the death of the American dream and the decay of the American family. Here, beneath the fantasy of a God-fearing, hard-working family lie dark secrets, forbidden desires, spiritual barrenness and abject rage. The moribund father, hypocritical mother and their two terrifying sons — one dissolute and nearly mute, the other an angry amputee — threaten, disparage and repudiate one another. When the young grandson enters the picture with his perky girlfriend, no one even knows who he is. This is a family locked together in non-recognition, self-deception, hidden truths and mutual destruction. It’s a bleak vision, revealed in rich textures, harsh, jumpy language, staccato rhythms and no small amount of edgy humor. The atmosphere, electric with the threat of violence, is by turns enigmatic, comic and compelling. Balancing these contradictory tones requires a crackerjack cast. At North Coast Repertory Theatre, director Joe Powers has mounted an uneven production, though T.J. Johnson is perfect as the dissipated father with his black humor and the ever-credible Bill Dunnam is wonderfully frightening and formidable as the zombie-like older son.
There are only two characters in “The Mysterious Mr. Love,” Karoline Leach’s first full-length play. But under Jack Banning’s sharp, unfussy direction, the actors nail the nasty little story. Jerry Phalen and Dana Hooley are terrific in this cat-and-mouse game of a conman who preys on the ladies till he meets his match in a smart spinster with plans of her own. A slow start but a shocking finish, this startling saga of mutual stalking is a must-see.
And add to your Don’t-Miss list the 13th annual Actors Alliance Festival, a cornucopia of theatrical delights… something for everyone, from kids to curmudgeons. Six exciting, alternating programs. Avoid them at your risk.
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.