Philip Ridley's VINCENT RIVER is ten years old now. It played successfully in 2000 and was revived in 2007. Ben Brantley of the New York TIMES raved about the 2008 Off-Broadway production with British actors Deborah Findlay and Mark Field. This revival at the Old Red Lion pub theater near Angel station has also been well received. By the time we saw it, the theater had run out of programs.
VINCENT RIVER is a textook example of a kind of two-character play in which a traumatic past is relived by its characters. The play is mostly exposition, but so well written that the audience is totally absorbed. We can see where the play is leading us, but are rapt during the journey. The play makes enormous emotional demands of its actors. Fortunately Debra Baker and Frank C. Keogh were totally convincing in this small space and were rbought out for repeated curtain calls.
We never see the title character. He was murdered a month before the play begins in a horrific gay bashing in the men's room of an abandoned railroad station in East London. Vincent's mother has had to move out of her apartment because of vicious attacks from the neighbors at her council estate. She is still unpacking in her new apartment when the play begins. She is visited by sixteen year old Davey, dressed in the suit he wore to his mother's funeral the day before, but bleeding from a beating he has received.. Davey has been stalking her since her son died but now has worked up the courage to visit. Over the course of the next hour and a half, we discover Davey's connection to Vincent and Vincent's murder, but the play isn't a simple mystery. We get the history of both characters. The single mother who had a child with her married boss and lost her job and her place in her family as a result. The deeply troubled teenage boy who got engaged to please his dying mother, but who is struggling with his sexuality. And, in the background, the mother's relationship with Vincent, who couldn't stand to be away from her. Vincent may have been gay, but his first love was his mother who has never dealt with his sexuality.
The long expository speeches Ridley has written for his characters are both specific and metaphorical. The mother trying to get rid of her son's gay porn, but unable to find a place to dump it. The boy's description of his feelings for Vincent, a love he cannot describe as love. The boy's visit is cathartic for both characters who finally come to terms with their guilt and their grief. There are a couple of moments when niggling questions arose for me, but they didn't dilute to force of this experience.
VINCENT RIVER is a almost unbearably emotionally raw. Both actors move convincingly from defensiveness to honesty, thanks in part to gin, pills and pot. They are totally believable. These are courageous performances one had to cheer.
Were I still teaching playwriting, I would use VINCENT RIVER as a model for fine traditional playwriting.
VINCENT RIVER by Philip Ridley. Directed by Gary Reid. With Debra Baker and Frank C. Keogh. Old Red Lion Theatre. November 27, 2010