Photo/Deanna R. Frieman
The Most Damaging Wound opens with a stream of curses--"Fucking, fucking, fucking say it, G"--and a flood of Jagermeister shots, but director Mark Armstrong ritualizes these excesses into an utterly realistic depiction of male friendship. Better still, Blair Singer's script takes its characters far more seriously than Howard Korder's Boy's Life, and its dialogue is more grown up than the sort of glib posturing that one finds in works like Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things. (This is surprising, considering that Singer recently wrote for Weeds.) The secret seems to be the underlying pedigree, an epigraph from Robert Bly's Iron John: "[W]hat do men do? Collect in a bar to hold light conversations over light beer . . . Having no soul union with other men can be the most damaging wound of all."
At first, all that energetic drinking conceals those wounds: on the surface, this is a play about five friends reuniting (after ten years) to have one last night of childish fun before they burn the past and become "men." But directly beneath that is a largely unspoken fear--hence the liquid courage--that they are not ready, and for that, Kenny (Ken Matthews) has called them together: a night of male bonding may not help him get over his fears of being a father, but he needs to have his "quest for masculinity" understood by other men. This leads to some rather brave revelations, the sort that aren't normally seen on stage. For instance, when Christine (Megan McQuillan) intrudes on their gathering, it becomes clear that Alan (Michael Szeles) is having an affair, but that's not what gets Kenny's goat: it's that Alan didn't confide in him.
The whole thing is naturally done, however, with small things slipping out between big comedic anecdotes--like where Dicky (Chris Thorn) was before his wedding--or rowdy singalongs to "Closer to Fine" that serve to illustrate just how tight these friends are. GG (Michael Solomon) spends most of the play being a cypher, trying to make sure that his soon-to-be restaurant isn't totally wrecked by the party, until it comes out that his desire to be a "best friend" has made him somewhat shy. If you went a second time, you'd catch the side glances, but it's best to be caught off guard by their realism (after all, why would true friends wink to the audience?). In the highlight of the evening, Dicky--the sort of crass drunk who is nonetheless the life of the party--sobers up enough to finally confront Bo (Bard Goodrich), who had been his best friend before he disappeared without a word seven years ago. Chris Thorn's performance is fantastic throughout the night, filled with hundreds of tics and tremors, but it's here, a perfectly ambiguous moment when he goes to kiss Bo (who is gay), that he is outstanding: that vulnerability is rarely seen, especially from someone who has moaned his way through taking a crap earlier in the night.
The result of all this outstanding acting, superb pacing, and impeccable direction is a show that is genuinely surprising. It's also incredibly personal, especially if you're sitting in the first row, stage left, a foot or so from the actors. Armstrong, who has worked in small spaces before, makes the most of the Manhattan Theater Source space, putting action off-stage, or from outside April Bartlett's set, as seen through a "window." The end result is that it all seems very lived in, which is to say that it goes beyond being plausible to feeling concrete--not just the "Hey, I have friends like that" effect, but the "I feel exactly the same way" connection. The most damaging wound, then, would be the theater community's self-inflicted one if this play fails to transfer.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Photo/Deanna R. Frieman