Tom Ryan Thinks He's James Mason...
This stark, tense, and brilliantly acted deconstruction of Nicholas Ray's film Bigger Than Life is a provocative evening of experimental theater.
In Ray's film, James Mason plays a middle-class American father prescribed cortisone pills after he's stricken with a deadly disease. He appears to make a full recovery, but when he takes to popping them as if they were Tic Tacs (which in this production they actually are), he becomes an angry, psychotic brute who terrorizes his wife and young son.
Fish, who has directed plays by Charles Mee and Sheila Callaghan, shreds the Hollywood realism in favor of a more primitive abstract approach. Peter Ksander's narrow gray set stands in for a movie soundstage, and when his lighting dims, it shrouds the actors in shadows. Like Ray's film, Fish uses his adaptation for societal commentary, in this case on the savagery and insanity of heroic aspirations taken to extremes.
The terrifically intrepid and dynamic Thomas Jay Ryan and Christina Rouner toss themselves into this physically and emotionally grueling fray with equal doses of abandon and restraint, not only playing all the characters in the movie, but injecting contemporary references, as they switch off between the same character or take on more than one at once. It gives the proceedings a schizophrenic sensibility that's heightened by the staging, which reflects the characters' inner states instead of outward actions. At various points, Ryan and Rouner sit slouched against the wall; they dance together when their characters are shopping -- and instead of passing him a pitcher of milk, she drenches him in it.