Tuesday, May 20, 2014

New York, Day Six - "The Few"

"The Few"

Are you alone?  Hurtling toward some distant destination, your fellow travelers all around, but tantalizingly just out of reach?  Don't worry, there are many more out there, just like you.  You may be alone, but you don't have to be lonely.

Is that the cry of all of us in life?  Or just long-haul truckers?  

By focusing specifically on the needs and desires and thwarted ambitions of professional drivers who pilot 18-wheel rigs back and forth across the country, Samuel D. Hunter's new play "The Few" also deftly addresses the existential loneliness we all face.  For no matter how surrounded we are by our fellow travelers, no one else ever drives the exact same road.  No one else can ever know - completely - what anyone else's journey is like.

So far, this year's junket in New York has been a wild success.  Everything I've seen has been of very high quality.  Not a single clunker.  But "The Few" may be the most exciting, thrilling piece I've seen thus far.  Not simply because it's great - and it is - but because I can see how much better it can still get.

This is a small, tightly-contained show. There are only three characters and all the action takes place in a single room - a shabby, ill-organized office in a trailer somewhere in the northern plains of America.  At lights up, Bryan (Michael Laurence) is sitting across from QZ (Tasha Lawrence), and they share a long, long uncomfortable silence before we finally learn that, four years earlier, Bryan had disappeared into thin air following the death of their friend Jim, leaving QZ alone to run the small newspaper the three of them had started in order to serve the needs of lonely long-haul truckers.  Bryan's vision for the paper was more literary, but in his absence, QZ - hungry for a profit - remade "The Few" (the name of the paper as well as the play) into little more than a singles bar for truckers, with virtually all of the content being personal ads.

Tasha Lawrence is brilliant as QZ - righteously angry but relentlessly rational, she refuses to let Bryan's reappearance threaten the new life she has made for herself, a phoenix rising from the ashes after being left by both her publishing and life partners.  As Bryan, Michael Laurence is quite good, but there's more to playing a drunken, lost soul than unkempt hair and empty stares.  Laurence almost gets to the point of fully inhabiting Bryan, but then seems to pull back from that edge.

There are also a few times where the rhythm seems to be off, where the players need to slow down a bit, or vary the pace to match the relatively naturalistic dialogue.

Some of these rhythmic problems could have been due to the fact that the third character, Matthew, a teenager who has stepped in to help QZ with the paper, was played by the understudy on the night I saw the show.  Jacob Perkins did quite an excellent job, but the word-of-mouth on this show is that Gideon Glick, who usually portrays Matthew, is brilliant, and one of the main reasons to see 'The Few."

But these are quibbles.  The show, overall, is brilliant.  The set (by Dane Laffrey) is perfect (the polar opposite of John Lee Beatty's Georgian mansion in "City of Conversation"), and the sound effects and recorded voices (of truckers leaving their personal ads on an answering machine) add depth and richness to the story.  

And the story itself!  I won't tell you more for fear of spoiling the surprises, but much is revealed along the way that add dimension to the characters and to the theme they present.

I would not be at all surprised to see this show move from the tiny Rattlestick Playwrights Theater to a larger venue.  It will almost certainly get plenty of stagings at regional theaters across the country, so if it comes to where you are, give it a chance.  Even if it means a very long haul.

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