Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Bad Bromance

We have gotten to love our anti-heroes in entertainment.  From Michael Corleone to Walter White, these titans of their respective industries seem determined to test our boundaries--to see how far they can go before we stop rooting for them.  At the same time our constant media access bombards us with the latest random violence endemic to this country as we doff our shoes to board a plane.  We're fascinated, we loathe it, and we're inured to it all at the same time.  Carter W. Lewis tackled all this even before the phenomenon of Twitter being our breaking news source with his script for "Soft Click of a Switch."  But as Michael and Walter would agree, the key really is family-or at the very least those entangled together with love, loyalty, and truth.

Ed and Earl are not the brilliant heads of crime syndicates, nor are they even everymen. They are losers, flotsam washing up to the bar on waves of gin and beer.  When they meet, they just barely get past their prickly exteriors to have some semblance of a conversation. Starting a play with riffs on "I don't want to talk to you, get to know you, or otherwise engage with you" is a gutsy move, but Lewis pulls it off because it informs the context of where these two men have come from psychologically and where they are headed in their folie a' deux.

Ultimately, they end up building bombs out of air conditioner parts and blowing up free standing fotomats (the only detail that dates the play-otherwise it could be almost timeless) just to do something important.  The fact is, the bombings are nearly irrelevant--they could be read as a twisted take on the classic sports story.  Our anti-heroes find they are stronger together as a team and they achieve the impossible.  It's just that instead of using ice skates they use their own overdue-at-the-library Anarchists' Cookbook.

They could both be completely nuts, completely sane, or somewhere in between.  But certainly their uneasy camaraderie is the true focus of the play.  They are both so needy you want to give them hugs--except for those prickly exteriors and the loose grips on reality.  It's the acting that gets at the vulnerability behind the lunacy.  Both Brandon Ryan as Ed and Mark Fullerton as Earl embody the pain that has driven them to the point of no return.  They also uncover the desperate need to connect with somebody for fear of flying completely off the rails.  Ryan typically has an easy way about his performances that belies the level of difficulty in the roles he chooses, and here he turns in similarly intriguing work with Ed. We root for both of these losers despite ourselves, because they are humane in their own very specific ways.

Director Peggy Gannon does a fantastic balancing act with the show's tone--neither bedlam-crazy nor morose, neither stodgy nor flippant, and each choice serves the story. There are a number of pitfalls with a script like this and she deftly avoids each one. In lesser hands, the relationship between the two men could easily fall into stereotype, but she keeps the complexity rich and fully formed. The conversations, reluctant opening up, the squabbles, it's all so strangely normal. This play is also really funny, and the direction doesn't shy away from that, but rather embraces it.

MAP Theatre's last production, "3 Screams", was about a family at a 45 degree angle from the world, and this is another unique and challenging work. It touches on questions of relationship, identity, fear, and apathy. It's a great asset to Seattle theater to have MAP searching for these under-recognized scripts to bring to light, because in their hands, it's not homework, it's a triumph.

At West of Lenin through Sept. 28.  Tickets through Brown Paper Tickets. All performances are Pay What You Can, so go see it!

UPDATE:  I forgot to note this bit about sound design, which I posted on FB.

  I also liked Shane Regan's sound design. The music gave us the sense of *exactly* what kind of bar we were in, and I loved the hum of the fluorescent lights in Earl's office. Again, we knew exactly where we were though the sound design.

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