Thursday, April 01, 2010


Letters and numbers are inadequate, state the dueling monologues of G.B.S. There are too many fucking numbers, says Rich. And, adds his brother Sam, letters can stand for just about anything, from grievous bodily harm to George Bernard Shaw. These two would be perfectly happy to stand at opposite ends of the stage, content in their own complaints, except that G.B.S. stands for Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and their father has been paralyzed by it. As a result, Rich and Sam are forced together, though they remain apart, with Jason Hall's script slowly pulling the shared, alternating narrative of these two brothers together. 

Because it would otherwise be a very short play, a lot of things happen as Rich drives Sam to the hospital. Rich uses Sam to "break in" to his ex-wife's apartment complex, hoping to steal back his daughter; one flat tire later, they wind up stranded outside an old classmate's house, each with very different takes on the meaning of "fucking Matthew Wheeler." They even take a literal trip down memory lane, watching the children sled down Indian Hill. Thankfully, Hall fills these scenes with original anecdotes (a major cigarette faux pas), telling details (not just the way Sam reacts to some kids who "rather look like hoodlums," but the way Rich reacts to Sam's unconsciously elite shudder), and a very active voice that allows both actors to jump into the other's monologue (as themselves or other characters, as needed). Because of him, the script avoids the inadequacies of mere "letters" and becomes a tender and comic thing.

Unfortunately, it's a bit rougher on stage: Jay Rohloff is too literal, and he fills the monologues with unnecessary and often goofy action, which in turn contributes to the overacting. For Jason Jacoby, this is less of a problem, as Sam is meant to be a bit dramatic--he's the emotional, gay son, fleeing a town and family that don't understand him. Things work out less well for Curran Connor, who plays Rich so pathetically that it's hard to see why anyone--especially himself--thinks he's tough. As if it were not bad enough that his ex-wife beats him up in an early scene (i.e., Connor throwing himself to the floor), he spends the rest of the play hamming up his "crippling" back injury. Even Josh Windhausen's set gets a bit distracting: those random letters and numbers stare us down, a symbolic choice in an otherwise literal play.

The overt stuff works for Jacoby--particularly when he gloats about his formative sexual experiences--because we don't expect Sam to be that bold, but it actually cripples Connor's portrayal of Rich. It's not until they reach the ICU that Rich becomes more than the sum of Sam's demeaning descriptions. Rich suggests that Sam rub his comatose father's hand, in the hopes that this might help their father's nervous system to "wake up"; this is the sort of delicate touch in G.B.S. that Rohloff is missing, and instead of the clear impression gained by a gentle rubbing, we get a shakier view.

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