Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Simpatico"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Larry Stark


"Simpatico"

by Sam Shepard
Directed by Nancy Curran Willis
Assistant Director/Dramaturg Patricia Morrow

Original Music by Valerie Forgione
Set Design by Armand Fillian
Costume Design by Marcia Friedman
Lighting Design by Kent Lord
Properties Coordinator Marc Capizzi
Stage Manager Karen Edwards

Vinnie............................................Jerry Robbins
Carter.....................................Shawn F. Maguire
Cecilia.....................................Kimberly McClure
Simms....................................Thomas Vittorioso
Kelly........................................Rachel Benichasa
Rosie......................................Michele Mulvaney

Back in the early '60s Sam Shepard began writing short, intense plays that seemed to boil out of drama all irrelevances like plot or story, leaving sharp theatrical conflict dynamically in place. There was always something happening there, but you didn't care what it was, did you Mr. Jones? Who was up, who down, who won and who lost every hard-fought exchange was always rivetingly exciting, the language of conflict always vivid. Like early works of Albee, Shepard built on the abstractions of Absurd Theater experiments, yet retained a human, American flavor for his characters. Gradually, he began pouring some vestiges of story into the mix, and the powerfully gripping production of "Simpatico" at the Quannapowitt Playhouse in Reading is a nearly flawless reading of this middle-period gem. Nancy Curran Willis and her excellent cast have nailed it cold.

The conflict here is between Vinnie (Jerry Robbins) who has been supported in a kind of witness-protection scheme by Carter (Shawn F. Maguire). The two of them were switching racehorses, and Vinnie set up Simms, the man ready to expose them (Thomas Vittorioso) --- photographed him with a woman. But the woman (Michele Mulvaney), Vinnie's wife, threw him over and married Carter, while Vinnie went into a tailspin and Simms made a success with a new name and a career tracing racehorse bloodlines. (Clear so far?) Much of the play traces the attempts of Vinnie's new heartthrob (Kimberly McClure) to sort out all these shadowy backgrounds, motives and impulses while dealing with the three men.

But the why's of all of this are unimportant. What tingles is the constant winner-take-all contest that informs every encounter, every exchange, every speech. The dialogue is as crisp and intense as Mamet, without the macho dirty words. It's several minutes into the first conflict before the sharply-dressed Carter and the slovenly Vinnie get to anything like an explanation of why they are sparring with one another. There is a prize-fight feeling to their feints and attacks, the switches of subject and lunges after advantage. And when Vinnie confronts Simms, its his unruffled confidence, no matter what, that frustrates every attack with almost a tai-chi calm.

So, it's not any resolution of story-lines that that gives this play its shape, but the subtle readjustments in position that satisfy. That, and exquisite details of playing, flashes of hilarious incongruity, and, always, the unexpected. Kimberly McClure's incredulous astonishments as details and inconsistencies erupt are bright, funny shocks because she is just as bewildered, just as involved, as the audience itself.

Director Willis has taken the entire theatre apart to arrange three playing-areas with audience completely in the round, but the intensity of playing and the quick, precise details of timing and conflict keep every moment intensely interesting. This is pure theater at its best.

Love,
===Anon.


" Simpatico" (till 26 February)
QUANNAPOWITT PLAYERS
55 Hopkins Street, READING
1(781)942-2212 1(781)944-4949

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