Director Tim Corcoran starts things off in kinetic style, with a series of flashbulb tableaux of Eddie and May holed up in a motel room. May is on the floor in a heap while Eddie moves, tableau by tableau, through the room, trying to get her attention. Once the play gets going, we discover that the two are lovers, or ex-lovers, or something. It isn't long before May is up and about; she and Eddie are soon flinging themselves at each other and rolling about the room in paroxysms of anger and lust. They want each other and hate each other, but they've wanted and hated each other for 15 years now and never made it work. Eddie has just driven over 2,000 miles to see her, or so he claims; their future and past are equally in question.
David Mogentale is an excellent actor but he doesn't quite click in the role of the taciturn, smoldering Eddie. Under Corcoran's direction, Mogentale is too loose-limbed and jerky to seem credible as a brooding man of the desert. Corcoran has got him performing all sorts of hi-jinks, tugging on things and scooting across the floor; Mogentale plays the character as a bit of a child, with every emotion way out over the top. Elizabeth Elkins is more convincing as the desperate, shaky May, but the chemistry between the couple is only rarely explosive; their violence seems staged, whether they're kissing or smacking each other. On a related note: When Mogentale sits on May's bed to clean his gun, we really don't get the impression that this is a guy who regularly handles firearms. Ditto when he practices his rope-work, lassoing the bed posts.
But, late in the play, Mogentale hits his stride with a vengeance in the long monologue which opens the flood-gate of back story that Shepard has deftly kept us waiting for the whole time. That's when we find out exactly how Eddie and May know each other, how long they've been stomping and storming around one another in furious circles...and just who that old drunk guy in the corner is. First Eddie and then May offer extended, conflicting versions of their mutual story. As the Old Man's place in that story becomes clearer, the Old Man becomes more interested, more attentive, and more involved in the action.
As that Old Man, Stephen Payne is a presence alternatively funny and menacing. Seated in what looks like the front seat of a truck, Payne interjects every once in a while, more or less footnoting the proceedings. When Eddie is writhing in physical pain inflicted by an infuriated May, the Old Man cautions him to avoid living in a fantasy world, and he has similar counsel for May a bit later. It's Shepard's neat trick to bring what appears to be an outsider into his story at the very end; that trick is pulled off gracefully as the actor leaps from his truck seat and joins the action.
The only other claim on Eddie and May's attention is Martin, a big, moping lug who is May's improbable suitor. Tony DeVito is gamely dopey in the part, trying to make sense of all the lust and fury seething in front of him. He doesn't get it till the end, and neither do we: The frank, desperate emotions below the surface of the couple's tale come to the fore in that last pair of monologues, when the characters are talking to the audience and not to each other. They are great, powerfully performed monologues; if only that power was evident throughout the production.
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