Friday, December 12, 2008

In a Dark, Dark House, Bang and Clatter/Akron

(The brothers in this play didn't grow up quite like Wally and The Beav.)

It’s not all that hard to say shocking things. All you do is take an agreed upon truth and say the opposite. This happens every time someone writes an article that says global climate change is a fantasy, that our oil supplies will never dry up, and that Sarah Palin is a brainiac.

On stage, the current master of this kind of shock doctrine is playwright Neil LaBute. His play—In A Dark, Dark House, now at Bang and Clatter in Akron—features his usual formula involving tormented people and some fast reversals and twists before the final curtain. And the subject matter of child abuse, child sexual molestation and the attendant question of adolescent innocence, couldn’t be more incendiary.

While there are elements of this play and production that work exceedingly well, the character contortions that populate the third and final scene are so convoluted that it throws the entire play into a baffling ball of confusion.

Terry, a tense and aggressive security guard, is visiting his affluent 35-year-old younger brother Drew at a psychiatric hospital where ex-lawyer Drew is receiving treatment for drunk driving after an accident. Drew wants Terry to talk to the doctors about Drew’s past, particularly the unseemly activities imposed upon him as a child by a charming man named Todd, so Drew can get back to his stately home and family.

It’s clear Terry doesn’t want to be there, saddled once again with another of Drew’s addiction problems, and Terry keeps challenging Drew to be honest with him. As Terry, Sean Derry once again delivers a compelling version of his favorite and oft-seen stage persona: a long-haired, beard-stubbled, grubbily-dressed redneck with a short fuse. But this character begs for a different approach, a person more tightly controlled, even down to his personal appearance.

Still his scenes with Stephen Skiles as Drew crackle with fraternal authenticity as they wrestle verbally and physically with their relationship and the sordid history that haunts them both. Skiles is loose and affable, as many upscale lushes are, and his affected use of juvenile language such as “Dude” and “whatever,” while enraging his brother, seems completely natural.

After a tense if repetitive first scene between the brothers, we follow Terry to a putt-putt course where he engages in conversation with the 16-year-old manager Jennifer. Her identity and the reason for Terry’s presence there aren’t revealed until the last scene. Perhaps due to the fact that the role of Jennifer was being played at this performance by substitute Erika Rylow, this pivotal scene lacked the necessary tension and sexual subtext the play requires.

In that concluding scene, an emotional roller coaster, Terry and Drew confront each other again, this time on the grounds of Drew’s luxurious home during a party. This is when LaBute reveals his shocker involving Terry and a few other fast spin moves that leave the audience in the dust.

This production, co directed by Sean McConaha and Skiles, has a very stripped down feel, since there is virtually no set save for a (broken) bench and the barest suggestion of a miniature golf course. This aspect gets a pass, since B&C has only recently occupied their new space behind Crave restaurant (actually, it’s directly behind the parking lot next door).

In a Dark, Dark House Through Dec. 20 at the
Bang and Clatter Theatre,
behind the parking lot
next to Crave restaurant at
57 E. Market Street,
Akron, 330-606-5317

No comments: