Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
Two men stand in a living room, catching up on better times, days when actor Shane (Alexander Alioto) used to visit home and his cement-mixing brother Roy (Michael Gladis) more often than just Thanksgiving and Christmas. The room is a mess of beer and toys, and director Robert O'Hara frequently keeps it lit in the staid glow of late-late-night television. Theatrically, it's a Kodak moment that shows the history between these brothers, and its now haphazard remains. But then Shane opens his mouth, spinning an argument out of one of the many scenes that happen offstage, referring to a character (Roy's seven-year-old monster of a son) that we never see, and pulling up a history that seems more anecdotal than real: "Do you want to tell each other things, Roy?" he asks. "OK. Let's tell each other things." This is the problem at the heart of Chad Beckim's The Main(e) Play: the characters all tell each other what's happening.
Why so much exposition? Well, Mr. Beckim's excellent with language, but not with editing. In 'nami, the strong characters and desperate social situations limited what he could and couldn't say; in Lights Rise on Grace, he used monologues to build into solid scenes later, speaking directly through his cast. In The Main(e) Play, he's stuck with a bland plot and somewhat redundant characters, and his unique descriptions ("It looks like Mr. Rogers and Captain Kangaroo had a gang bang in here") are sorely out of place. He's not helped by O'Hara, either: the play sags from lengthy but nondescript scene changes, and unessential movements -- like the up-the-aisle entrance to the house -- are overemphasized. Characters are misused, too: we could use more of Shane's old flame Jess (Susan Dahl, the only actor to really use that accent), and less of his rival, Rooster (Curran Conner's excellent in the role, but Roy makes his part redundant).
I use words like "sag" and "stuck" to illustrate that there's something worth saving at the core, and in this case it's the feeling of becoming an alien in one's own home. By making his main character an actor, he gets to play with the omnipresent illusion of theater, and when Shane exclaims that he's tired of playing pretend, it's a powerful moment. Furthermore, while the play seems as cluttered with extra scenes and unconnected rants, I've never seen Mr. Alioto so vulnerable or Mr. Gladis so solid. As Shane, Alexander is channeling the smarmy attitude from Nelson, but mixing in a real sense of loss; as Roy, Michael is threatening with just a whisper, and when he has to speak seriously, his voice is strangled with the sad sort of strength that comes from being a single father.
The Main(e) Play would be a lot stronger if it dropped the parenthetical aside in its title, and stuck to the main point. Right now, it's trying too hard to be clever: it needs to be honest first.
The Main(e) Play (90 min.)
Partial Comfort Productions @ Lion Theater/Theater Row (410 West 42nd Street)
Tickets (212-279-4200): $18.00
Performances (through 2/9): Wed. - Sat. @ 8:00