Thursday, 15 May 2014

THE FEW by Samuel D. Hunter at Rattlestick Playwrights THeatre

     Idaho is to Samuel Hunter what Mississippi was to William Faulkner -- a place both geographically and culturally specific and a setting for a narrative with wider implications. Hunter's psychological and spiritual terrain is stasis and despair. When THE FEW opens in a trailer that serves as the office for a magazine catering to lonely truckers, two characters, a man and a woman look at each other silently for thirty seconds or so -- one of those long, inscrutable silences contemporary playwrights inherited from Harold Pinter by way of Sam Shepard. Bryan (Michael Laurence) has just returned from an unexplained ten month absence from the magazine he co-founded with his now dead friend Will and their female comrade, QZ (Tasha Lawrence). QZ is furious that Bryan abandoned the magazine and her. In the meantime, she has taken in Will's nephew Matthew (Gideon Glick) a profoundly needy gay teenager, as her assistant. Bryan seems to be in a state of emotional and spiritual paralysis. He has been in shock ever since Will purposely drove his truck across the median into the path of another car, killing himself, but also killing a young family. QZ just wants to keep the magazine afloat with Matthew's help.
     Matthew and Will's dream was the creation of a haven for lonely, isolated truckers -- a place where they could come for booze and fellowship. The magazine was to be an antidote to the trucker's sense of isolation. To keep it afloat in Bryan's absence, QZ has turned it into a forum for personal ads. Throughout the play we hear some of the ads on the answering machine, more cries for companionship than sex, or cries for sex to serve as a surrogate for companionship. When Bryan reenters the scene, Matthew sees the opportunity to restore the magazine to its original purpose, but Bryan is in too hopeless a state to do anything positive.The play shows us whether and how these three characters can at least save themselves if they can't help each other.
     As much as I have admired Hunter's previous work, THE FEW is too thin to sustain its ninety minutes. It would be better half an hour shorter. It's repetitive -- Bryan is asked about three times too often why he has come back and the real reason, when it is finally revealed, stretches credibility. Since we're told early on that Bryan actually owns the trailer and the magazine, there's no question who has the upper hand. Bryan and QZ are types we have encountered before and we know pretty much what will happen to them from the outset. The only interesting, unpredictable character is young Matthew, played brilliantly by Gideon Glick. Disowned by his family, Matthew needs love and acceptance. Bryan alternates between cruel rejection and attempts at avuncular connection. Above all, Matthew wants to be able to stay, but his position is threatened the minute Bryan enters the scene. All nerves and constant motion, Matthew tries desperately to assert his will and maintain his position. At the climactic moment, armed with a bb gun, Matthew tries to force Bryan to accept him and save the magazine. The armed assault is also reminiscent of Sam Shepard, but Glick here, as throughout the play, makes us believe in Matty's desperation and his strength.      
     The postage stamp size Rattlestick stage give us the sense of confinement necessary for the play. Davis McCallum has done all he can to keep the play credible and fast-paced, but he can't hide the play's narrative flaws. The cast is superb, particularly Glick.  
THE FEW, Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre. May 12, 2014.

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