David Wilson Barnes and Paul Sparks in Lady
(© Sandra Coudert)
David Wilson Barnes and Paul Sparks in Lady
(© Sandra Coudert)
Is it ever advisable to discuss politics while toting loaded shotguns? You can guess where Craig Wright might be heading with the setup for Lady, a three-man drama about childhood friends which obliquely addresses the Iraq conflict. The show is now enjoying a crackling New York premiere at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, thanks to Dexter Bullard's deft direction and the superb performances of Paul Sparks, Michael Shannon, and David Wilson Barnes.

While Wright's approach is discursive -- he takes his time setting up the situation -- ultimately not a word is wasted. All we're given at the outset is two hunters waiting for dawn to break in backwoods Illinois. (Designer John McDermott has miraculously transformed the semi-derelict Rattlestick Theatre stage into a convincingly sylvan setting). The differences between the men quickly become apparent: Kenny (Shannon) is a glazed-eyed, soft-hearted stoner -- and the "Lady" in question is his beloved Brittany spaniel (initially unseen but heard panting), who's fond of Pop-Tarts.

Meanwhile, Dyson "Dice" (Sparks), could probably benefit from a little herbal tranquilization. Bristly and sardonic, he's smart -- maybe too smart ever to be content with the life he has created for himself, which includes a case of chronic infidelity. Dice has a major issue with the third friend they're awaiting, and not just because "Grammy" -- aka Arthur Landsman Graham (Barnes) -- is running late. Twelve years ago, Kenny and Dice helped to get Grammy elected as a Democrat "in camouflage," running on a Republican platform; and now Grammy appears to have taken the pose to heart. His shifting allegiance has backfired on the pair, with devastating consequences potentially close to home.

There's little mystery where Wright's political sympathies tend: George Bush is "the stupidest person on earth!," he has Dice shout in frustration. But Wright's true gift is his ability to bring the debate to immediate -- and often amusing -- life. It's great fun listening to Dice needle Kenny (aka "Stonehenge") about his slacker lifestyle. True, Kenny comes up with his own imaginative sparks from time to time and even some pithy apercus. Still, he resists what he perceives as Dice's insistence that "everybody think all the time": "Let's have a simple time," is all Kenny asks. Yet in clinging to apathy and ignorance -- like the country as a whole, Wright seems to suggest -- Kenny is the one who'll be brought to grief again and again.

There's no heavy-handed parable demanding to be gleaned here though. At the end of 80 minutes, Lady is just one very good writer bringing the battles of the world arena into closer focus.