note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi
Eddie … Ciaran Crawford
Tom … Rodney Raftery
Gary … Rick Park
Frank … Dafydd Rees
Close on the heels of Metro Stage Company’s production of ASSASSINS comes the Súgán Theatre’s production of GAGARIN WAY. Gregory Burke’s black comedy also provokes laughter and has its own social misfits but never lets its audience forget that to murder someone, whatever the motive, is to end a warm, throbbing life, and this being Mr. Burke’s first play makes GAGARIN WAY all the more impressive. The action takes place in Dunfermline, a Scottish mining town taken over by multinational corporations (the play’s title is a street named after the Russian astronaut who was the first man launched into space --- a hint of where the town’s sympathies lie). Two local men, Eddie and Gary, kidnap an executive and plan to kill him as a political statement but instead of being Japanese, Dutch or American, Frank turns out to be a native son as bitter over his selling out to the invaders as his abductors are over their dead-end lives. Tom, a young security guard, turns a blind eye, at first --- he is led to believe that Eddie and Gary are only stealing computer chips --- but gets caught up in the plot by coming back for his hat. Mr. Burke shows that when a community loses its way of life it also loses its collective soul, leading to eventual retaliation, and Gary, Tom and Frank come to realize they have more in common than they realized but Eddie, a natural-born troublemaker, wants to take back his life…. There are several surprising twists in the last few minutes of the evening, just before the final punch line.
To understand another country one must understand its humor and director Brendan Hughes has done his homework: I know not what constitutes “Scottish” unless it be as tough, dark and gnarled as it is here but the Súgán production definitely does not read “American”. Under Mr. Hughes’ guidance, relaxed but never missing a trick, his actors flesh out their characterizations instead of filling the stage with dialogue balloons nor do they distance themselves from their roles to imply that they are not, offstage, what they seem, onstage. All of Mr. Burke’s humors are in place --- the humor of camaraderie, of malice, of boredom, of one-upmanship and, finally, of nihilism, with little to show for it. If last year’s POPCORN was a roller-coaster ride, GAGARIN WAY is the trembling earth, about to erupt. Dafydd Rees’ Frank and Sandra Goldmark’s set design are the evening’s main sources of tension: Ms. Goldmark’s storage room is composed of stacked rows of cardboard boxes, all neatly square and so in place that you know things are bound to get messy --- listen for the faint, ironic musak whenever the door is opened --- and Mr. Rees is simply amazing. For the first half of the evening his unconscious form is an ever-present reminder of why we have all gathered in the first place; when Frank comes to (kudos to the make-up team for a nasty head wound), Mr. Rees plays his victim with a mixture of politeness and low-keyed curiosity; when Frank adds his own two cents on a subject he is tentative at first but grows in confidence as if surprised that an intelligent conversation can still be held despite the current situation --- but he always snaps back to waiting mode at the least provocation. I’m reminded of an article I read years ago about a woman describing how she felt when she was pinned down by a lion --- she felt no terror at the time but, instead, a calmness which she attributed to her brain numbing into acceptance when struggle was useless --- whether or not this is Mr. Rees’ handle on the role, his Frank knows he is the lamb on the altar; the others may forget now and then, but he does not.
His fellow actors are no less memorable: if you can imagine two of the Three Stooges tormenting Mr. Rees while Stan Laurel watches from the sidelines, you have a rough idea of the tragicomic colors that Ciaran Crawford, Rick Park and Rodney Raftery bring to their roles. Despite an overly thick accent that ever challenges the ear, Mr. Crawford’s Eddie is an absorbing study of apathy masking a chilling indifference --- his actions are all the more disturbing for their casualness --- and Mr. Raftery’s staring-eyed Tom has the starved, sad forlornness of a workhouse orphan (what a Smike he would make!); the world stops for his very funny asthma attack, as if a seal suddenly slid down his throat. Rick Park is always a welcome clown --- every time I see a photo of Massachusetts’ governor, I can still hear Mr. Park’s housewife murmuring, “Oh, that Mitt Romney…” while making banana bread in SPIKED EGGNOG II, several Christmases ago --- here he puts his comedic skills to work as Gary, the most reflective of the losers. Big, bald and burly, Mr. Paul’s Gary is a hardworking bloke who may not be the brightest bulb in the box but, in his own clumsy way, tries to make a change for the better but only ends up with the worst. As was Cheryl McMahon’s happy fate in SpeakEasy’s THE MOONLIGHT ROOM, Mr. Park’s performance is a solid argument how a familiar actor, given a change of environment, can suddenly seem brand new. Please, Boston, I want some more.