A doctor and a patient; a man, a woman, and her husband; a father and son. Generic sounding stuff, but Lehane tries (and generally succeeds) to give each a Sam Shepard-like twist. . . Coronado is cryptically minimalist.
In the industry of story-telling, there are two types of mysteries: thrillers—which make a living off surprise twists—and fair-play detective novels, which give attentive audiences ample opportunity to solve the mystery. Dennis Lehane’s new play, Coronado, is by no means fair: though three groups of people share the same space, they are by no means in the same time or even the same place (mentally or physically). Abetted in obfuscation by director and set-designer David Epstein, Coronado is cryptically minimalist, from the unsubtle dialogue to the bone-dry set (empty chairs and empty tables). Both of these things are good, as they focus the audience in on the spoken word; but of the three distinct narratives, two are simply dull and filled with noticeable flaws (clichés). At the same time, Coronado is also extremely crisp and understandable, a boon for the sometimes too-modern theater. And yet, the ultimate choice to link these three stories together is a bit too pulp, an indulgent necessity in the stylized pacing of a thriller.
And so: a doctor and a patient; a man, a woman, and her husband; and a father and son. Generic sounding stuff, but Lehane tries (and generally succeeds) to give each a Sam Shepard-like twist. The patient and doctor have had some sort of illicit affair, but what’s interesting is the dominating role-reversal: the patient, all fire-and-ice, holds the doctor in her sway. Unfortunately, Jason MacDonald is so cool, composed and one-dimensional that all of Kathleen Wallace’s brilliant exertions are just hitting a punching bag. There’s no clash or sense of conflict.
With the love triangle, Gina (Rebecca Miller) is troubled by her conscience when she agrees with her lover, Will (Lance Rubin) to kill her husband, Hal (Dan Patrick Brady). Again, role reversal: Hal’s actually a boisterous and mostly harmless drunk, high on life, and Gina and Will are the depraved ones (Will’s downright sadistic, which becomes a problem, because he’s also supposed to be in love and Rubin only hits the more villainous note). The problem here is the utter lack of chemistry between Rubin and Miller: everything from body language to text seems to belie their relationship and just goes to prove that even the most eloquent metaphors can be lost on a callous soul. It doesn’t help either than Brady’s talent is on another level: he makes the two look like marionettes, especially with all of Rubin’s hurdy-gurdy jerks.
Where Coronado gets going is the final piece in the triptych: the story of Bobby (Avery Clark) and his father (Gerry Lehane). Picture this: you wind up in a hospital, two bullets to the brain, and from there, in a jail, two years to your term. Your father picks you up, brings you to a bar . . . and then demands to know where the fucking three million dollar diamond you stole is buried. These two actors have a real grasp for the ugly history between them, and go head-first into what appears to be a violent stalemate. There’s role-reversal here too, and along with the delightful presence of Gwen (Maggie Bell) as Bobby’s one true love, and the narrative tricks with time and place, this could be a play entirely on its own. It doesn’t hurt that these are two well-versed actors: along with Brady, they have a capacity to make Lehane’s script crackle with the deserved tension and to highlight the clever malapropisms, half-jokes, memory-laced metaphors and sharp anecdotes. . . not just the overabundance of cuss words.
So rather than a superb one-act, there’s a superfluous two-act, one that cannot avoid becoming contrived in order to wrap every loose end together. And for all the good direction, Act 2’s needlessly filled with blackouts to transition from scene to scene, all of which slows down what had previously been (and could still have been) a manic slapdash of a dance between stories. Whatever momentum gets built is chopped to pieces in little serial climaxes, all of which ruin the flow (and lead to some odd breaks in character). There’s a great story in Coronado, somewhere, but the road there is the slow, scenic one, replete with twists, turns and dead-ends. This show begs for an expressway: we want to visit; we just want to get there faster, and without all the dead weight of a detour.
The Invisible City Theater Company
Manhattan Theater Source: 177 MacDougal Street
Tickets: $15 (212-981-8240)
Performances (Closing 12/17): Tuesday-Saturday @ 8:00
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.