note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark
by William Donnelly
Directed by Heather McNamara
Set Design by Ron De Marcos
Lighting Design by Tim Sawicki
Costume Design by Erica Lilienthal
Original Music by William Donnelly
Stage Manager Matt Breton
Two young men sit, one reading old magazines, in a basement room, eating freshly-baked donuts and speculating on the note that came down on a communication-line telling them that the donuts had been left for them upstairs.
No, it's not Harold Pinter's one-act "The Dumb Waiter" but the beginning of William Donnelly's new two-act comedy "Remuda"*. The similarity is no mistake, however. As Edward Albee did in "The American Dream" Donnelly has eaten all the neo-Absurdist playwrights whole, and fashioned an original kind of contemporary "slacker-pastiche" for which the only word is "hommage".** And, as each question the situation poses is answered, the auidience is privileged to watch the playwright supply new answers --- which lead to new questions.
These "boys" (as those notes call them) rarely leave their apartment --- or is it really a rec-room with a bedroom and a bathroom attached? They play video-games and engage in laconic circular arguments about, for instance, which one will call out for Chinese food, or whether it is their father (who lives upstairs) who is leaving them baked goods for breakfast. James Henderson is Craig (The one who sits and reads) and Zac Springer is Keith (who nervously paces and asks questions). Are the agoraphobes? Where do they get money for food or video-games? Are they lovers? or brothers? What's going on down here?
When the donut doner does appear, she is Ava Haddon as Fay --- a waitress, about the guys' age, apparently living with their dad. (Mom is dead, and the "boys" speculate on whether dad's hoping she'll be a replacement.) In trying to get acquainted, she rhapsodizes on having a tattoo she can never look at --- and shows it to them.
That's most of the action in Act I, but a retelling of detail (and there are lots more details) does nothing to describe the slow, quiet, understated flavor of the show, or the peculiar laughs it produces. Ron De Marco built an entire room in the Leverett House Old Library, filled it with the most meticulous paraphernalia of slacker sloth and bored indifference, from ill-used old board games to old take-out residue --- and built in glimpses of a bedroom (with a poster for "Taxi Driver" eloquently on the wall) and a bathroom. Erica Lilienthal found t-shirts and jeans and chinos (laundered, but never pressed) with indifferent stains here and there. The actors magically maintain a three-day growth of beard. And Tom Sawicki's lights, from full-stage to occasional dramatic "close-ups" for emphasis, are equal participants in the story.
But the story is much less important that the fabric of tense, indifferent, low-pressure contact among the actors. Director Heather McNamara sees to it that pauses speak as loud as dialogue, and audiences sit, rapt, waiting for the slow revelations widening their understanding of the situation.
For those who have a good grasp of modern theater styles, this is a masterpiece full not of quotations but resonances from its masters. There are Beckett's repetitions, Mamet's pauses, Pinter's intensely surprising revelations, and Shepard's sudden eruptions of raging subtext. None of these references need be understood: this isn't a textbook, it's a play. An odd, fascinating, funny play giving a glimpse at people opted-out, yet surrounded by contemporary American culture.
[ * The remuda is the place in cattle work where fresh horses wait to replace mounts that tire working with the stock. So says Donnelly, who calls his new play "An east coast western".]
[ ** "...Let no one else's work evade your eyes!
Plagiarize! Plagiarize! Plagiarize!
But remember always to call it --- 'Research'!"
This production will transfer to the Boston University Playwrights' Theatre later in the year for a second, more easily accessible run.