It's the guy-est of things: Sam Shepard's terrific play,
, about two brothers, is irresistible to actors and directors, although not, perhaps, to audiences anymore (does a season go by without another production?). The latest company to succumb to its temptations is Luna Theater.
Shepard's violent comedy offers various male blandishments: drunk and disorderly conduct, fraternal combat, bare chests, and, maybe best of all, it gives stage people another chance to bash Hollywood.
Austin (Eric Courtwright) is a screenwriter, hoping to finish his love-story script and convince producer Saul Krimmer (Steve Gleich) to back it. Lee (Chris Fluck), his brother, is a live-by-his-wits drifter, just back from three months in the Mojave Desert. They are temporarily and uneasily sharing their mother's kitchen while she (Susan Moses) is in Alaska.
Lee hustles Saul and before you know it Lee's working on a cowboy screenplay about two men chasing each other across "tornado country" - a script that metaphorically echoes the play we're watching.
Austin's project has been dropped ("Nobody's interested in love these days"). And we watch the siblings switch roles: Austin gets drunk and goes out and steals a bunch of toasters; Lee beats the typewriter to death with a golf club. Saul "thinks we're the same person." And maybe they are, although there is little in this production to reinforce that idea.
As Lee, Fluck (who seems to be trying to model his career on John Malkovich's) starts his performance way too high and too loud - there's no place to go but down, which works against the dynamic of the drama. He seems too dangerous and crazy at the start - why would anyone extend this yahoo any hospitality? And why does he talk in that fake cowboy accent?
Courtwright's Austin gets interesting in Act Two when he's drunk and desperate - although it would help if we saw more before-and-after contrast. Gleich's portrayal of Saul Krimmer lacks both big-money polish and smarminess; the suggestion that his interest in Austin is sexual adds an intriguing dimension, although it is hard to imagine that Lee would want to be "snapping towels at each other's privates" after a morning golf game if that were the case. Susan Moses manages the play's weirdest role with comical aplomb.
Gregory Scott Campbell's direction needs to demand more restraint of his actors, and the sound design needs some more authentic-sounding crickets, by Jiminy.
Written by Sam Shepard. Directed by Gregory Scott Campbell. Sets by Brandon Phillips, lighting by Andrew Cowles, sound and music by Eric Courtwright, fight choreography by Stanton Jay Davis. Presented by Luna Theater Co.
Cast: Chris Fluck (Lee), Eric Courtwright (Austin), Steve Gleich (Saul), Susan Moses (Mom).
Playing at: Walnut Street Theatre Studio Five (Ninth & Walnut Sts) Through June 2.Tickets $20 to $30. Information: 215-704-0033 or www.lunatheater.orgEndText