Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Few **

Longtime readers of this blog know that I have little taste for plays set in trailers. Once again, I am reminded why by this latest work of playwright Samuel D. Hunter, chronicler of marginalized Idahoans. Although his previous play, The Whale, won many prizes, I found its characters too grotesque to care very much about, much as I admired Shuler Hensley’s fantastic performance in that play.  The three characters in his new play, now at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, are far less extreme and easier, at least for me, to feel compassion for. They are Bryan (Michael Laurence), a former trucker who founded a newspaper for lonely truckers, his high school friend and lover QZ (Tasha Lawrence) and a needy effeminate teenager Matthew (Jacob Perkins, u/s for Gideon Glick) who has helped QZ (no explanation for her strange name is given) run the newspaper since Bryan abruptly disappeared four years ago after the funeral of their trucker friend and newspaper co-founder Jim. In Bryan’s absence, QZ has turned the newspaper, called “The Few,” from a financial flop into a barely viable entity by shedding its content to concentrate on personal ads for truckers. Matthew, Jim’s nephew, who has been rescued by QZ from an abusive family, hopes that Bryan’s return will restore the glory days of the newspaper, when its office, the cluttered double-wide trailer skillfully realized by Dane Laffrey’s set, will once again be a welcoming oasis for alienated truckers. Gradually — very gradually — we learn the reason’s for Bryan’s departure and his sudden return. I felt that a viable one-act play had been stretched to make an evening of it. The acting is first-rate and Davis McCallum’s sympathetic direction shows the material to best advantage. Jessica Pabst’s costumes are fine too. Some of the telephone recording of trucker personals are amusing. I liked it better than The Whale, but that isn’t saying a lot. Running time: 1 hr 40 minutes, no intermission.

NOTE: I must confess that I really do not like attending plays at The Rattlestick. There is no handicap access, the stairways within the theater are rickety, the absence of an aisle on one side of the theater is a safety hazard, the seats are barely more comfortable than rocks, and the offstage bathrooms make the starting time dependent on people’s bladders. I try hard not to let the decrepit surroundings influence my opinion of the play, but I wish a wealthy benefactor would favor Rattlestick with the money to bring the place into the 21st century.

1 comment:

Bruce Smith said...

Another view: This play is VERY Rattlestick and I think you are fair in citing your lack of enthusiasm for Rattlestick's focus. I liked The Few and felt it shared a lot of the characteristics that made The Whale one of the best theatre experiences I had during its theatre season. The playwright, Samuel D. Hunter, seems to be interested in exploring characters who have reached a point in their life that they question the very value of their life. His plays are heavy on character development and light on plot. But we come to understand people who see themselves as losers, so much so that they want to give up on life. That's not exactly an inviting topic, but, for me, Hunter's skill is his ability to draw the audience into the world of these characters and, in the process, allow us to grapple with issues of meaning, direction, security.

I found the performances convincing and engaging and the writing full of interesting observations that, on the surface, seem divorced from my personal experience -- I'm not a trucker resident of a trailer park or a morbidly obese 40-something trying to eat myself to death -- but Hunter's observations on these characters resonate with me long after I leave the theatre.