Monday, April 20, 2009

Wrecks, Bang and Clatter/Akron

(The issues in Wrecks revolves around one of these. One that's occupied, that is.)

An unassailable truth of writing is that it’s easy to pen a play with a bad surprise ending. Easy, that is, if you don’t care about little matters such as consistency or credibility.

The surprise ending in Wrecks by Neil LaBute, now at the Bang and Clatter Theatre in Akron, is certainly a shocker. But some may be more put off by the long, slow build-up than by the specific creepiness of the secret that’s eventually revealed.

Edward Carr, a 60-year-pld man dying of lung cancer, is at a funeral home grieving the death of his wife, who was 15 years his senior. For some 75 minutes Ed relates his life with Mary Josephine, or Jo-Jo as he called her. Describing her as perfect, “a pearl dropped down to Earth from Christ,” Ed waxes philosophic, breaks down in tears and chain smokes as he brings us into his intimate 30-year marriage.

There are a few funny moments, as when Ed describes the business he and Jo-Jo ran, a classic automobile rental chain called, inevitably, Carr’s. But most of the memories shared in this one-man show are fairly mundane, and eventually quite repetitive (we get it, Ed loved Jo-Jo, really).

Directed at a leisurely pace by Sean McConaha, this repetition of adoration begins to grate. That slowness, and Viront’s inability to be bland on stage, eventually work against this material.

Ideally, Edward should be an everyman, a charming guy who’s everybody’s best friend. (There must be a reason, other than the easy pun cited above, why LaBute made Ed a car salesman.) But Viront’s Edward is most definitely an unusual character, seeming to seethe with undefined inner demons, so the ordinary reminiscences put in his mouth seem oddly out of place.

Those demons are perhaps understandable in retrospect, after all is known, but the surprise ending (hint: there’s wordplay involved in the title) isn’t as much of a shock as it might have been, if we had been lured into perceiving Ed as being a totally normal dude.

Even so, Viront has total control of the stage, sucks down a half-dozen Camels with dispatch (for all you fans of second-hand smoke), and crafts a character that seems true—if less than a perfect fit for this play.

Through May 9 at the Bang and Clatter Theatre,
51 East Market Street, Akron,

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