All the lonely people. Where do they all come from? Don't be surprised if "Eleanor Rigby" is playing on repeat in your head after seeing the New York premiere of Samuel D. Hunter's The Few at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. While the famous Beatles song never appears in this surefooted production from director Davis McCallum, the theme of crippling solitude spins around the stage with such frequency, it begins to feel like a broken record. In fact, a lot of the territory and characters in this play feel eerily familiar.
The Few takes place in a cluttered trailer off a highway in the vast American west, sometime in 1999. Stacks of old newspapers dominate the shelves. Flying fish traverse the black screen of a chunky computer monitor. A water stain the shape of Alaska expands on the ceiling (detailed and realistic set design by Dane Laffrey). This is the office of The Few, a newspaper for truckers founded by trucker/poet Bryan (a convincingly gruff Michael Laurence), tough lady QZ (the flawless Tasha Lawrence), and their best trucker friend, Jim.
After Jim died in a terrible head-on collision, Bryan bolted, leaving QZ to run the paper. While Bryan started The Few as a kind of literary magazine for long-haulers (read: advertizing poison), QZ has managed to make the rag profitable by relying heavily on personal ads (12-15 pages per edition) while skimping on the editorial content (a page or two). She also has the help of Jim's 19-year-old nephew, Matthew (Gideon Glick), who is the only other employee. Naturally, QZ is thrown off guard when Bryan returns one day to resume his place at the paper. Can they pick things up where they left off?
Lawrence and Laurence exude chemistry almost as in sync as their homophonous surnames. You never question for a second that these two people have a long and painful history together. QZ's cut-the-crap ball-busting routine is an obvious defense mechanism, cultivated from years of disappointment and hurt. As Bryan, the smoky-voiced, booze-swilling, über-literate cowboy, Laurence is simultaneously repulsive and alluring. Still, I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd seen this character before. (Isn't he appearing in another trailer uptown?)
Gideon Glick's beguiling portrayal of Matthew is far more surprising. Gangly and awkward yet shockingly assertive, he feels like a Martian in this macho world of truckers and gonzo journalism. Costume designer Jessica Pabst convincingly tells the story of a young gay man who has not yet discovered his own fashion sense by outfitting Matthew in a striped red polo, K-Mart boxers protruding ever-so-slightly out of his blue jeans. With a slight lateral lisp and constant trepidation, he prods Bryan for stories of the good old days, when The Few wasn't just Hot Trucker Monthly (as Bryan derisively calls it).
Despite Glick's thrilling performance, his puppy-dog enthusiasm and later desperation feel all too predictable. Hunter manages to wring every ounce of suspense out of a script that is severely lacking — we can see where this show is going all the way back from the 10-mile marker.
Also, considering the story is about a paper that relies on personal ads for revenue, little consideration is given to the impending online dating revolution. It should feel like the digital sword of Damocles is hanging over the trailer. Instead, Hunter focuses on how these characters' damaged interpersonal relationships sink their already-doomed fish wrapper. The inevitable demise of print is an afterthought.
In the end, the most memorable aspect of the show is the endless stream of personal ad placements blaring from the trailer's answering machine. Call after call from the "desperately seeking" pours into this lonely-hearts club: some quite funny, others unspeakably sad. They influence and color the action onstage, not so subtly reminding us that the three people we see before us are not the only unhappy people in the universe. 10-4, good buddy.