Writer: Sam Shepard
Director: Alexander Lass
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
A night with an old friend, filled with talk powered by Woodford Reserve, will produce conversation filled with truths, half truths, joy, sadness and anger. Sam Shepard took that experience common to many and created a character driven 70 minutes, putting shape to tough themes such as alcohol abuse, domestic strife and the very nature of life. Some sparks of beauty shine out via smart word choice in the writing and super delivery from the two actors, but as a whole it feels like a lesson that doesn’t quite land.
The friends here are the 60-somethings Ames and Byron – very ably and enjoyably played by Christopher Fairbank and Joseph Marcell respectively. Byron has arrived at Ames’ fishing hut in the middle of nowhere, we never learn where, after a 3am call for help and company. Ames infidelity has been discovered and his subsequent relocation to the shack brings out some deep thoughts – some intriguing and fascinating (about the moon, about nature) and some that lead him further to the bottle and depression. Byron, we learn, has his own troubles. Through this, their fractured friendship and the armchairs on the porch provides much needed support, and gives the men space to talk and work through their problems.
The story is told through a rambling conversation – peppered with the comfortable, vaguely dirty jokes a lengthy friendship generates. They veer through old parties, towns, trips and as we progress we start to see a jumbling of facts and fading memories. One thinks he was there, the other disagrees. One remembers a horseracing story and the other takes it up with adjusted detailing. They squabble about the details and through these sparring sessions we learn more about their shared past, their recent tragedies and missteps.
We do learn a lot about what the characters did, and what they suffered – but are left feeling that we don’t really get to know them. They seem gregarious, fairly nice men – but there’s not a lot of depth there. With that, comes a lack of sympathy or resonance with their respective plights. Fairbank and Marcell are engaging on stage, framed by a really rather lovely set from Holly Pigott. But they’re making the best of a bad situation. In the quest to chart grand themes, the details are left behind.
They go from noon to 5am the next day drinking whiskey on the porch. They get a little drunker, a little more emotional, but without a gap in conversation, an indication that these 60 year old men are getting sleepy, or change of scenery the compression of time feels forced and artificial. Hints at a life of infidelity are made by Ames – the examination of which could be interesting, but doesn’t appear. The reasons for why the pair have not seen each other in years – unclear. The conversation felt predictable (friendly, to argumentative, to violent, to resolution) and there was not much to disrupt that plain expectation.
The actors, idea and writer promise so much for this play. It’s an interesting look, but doesn’t deliver on that promise of serious character exploration.
Runs until 24 November