By Stephen Belber
Directed by Pam Harbaugh
Theater on the Edge
Theater in the Dark, more like. This intimate 30 seat playhouse is a trick to find after sunset; give yourself plenty of time to circle the block as it’s easy to miss the parking lot. But once inside, your journey is rewarded with tough, heart wrenching action in the style of David Mamet. There’s a notional “preshow”; while the audience negotiates arm rests Vince (Zack Roundy) checks into this shifty Motel 6 room in dubious Lansing Michigan. The filthy, peeling wallpaper attempts to cheer up the space; it’s only friend is a lonely single bed whose mattress is stuffed with desperation and unsatisfying sex. Cheap beer is drunk or dumped down the sink; this saves someone’s kidneys the bother of turning Joseph Best Beer into something tastier, like piss. Vince came here from Oakland where he pursues a career as a volunteer fireman and pot dealer. He’s here to meet his high school buddy Jon (Joey Ginel). Jon’s first film will screen at the prestigious East Lansing Film Festival; no small feat for this small town boy. Both these guys dated Amy (Megan Raitano); Vince was with her longer but Jon went all the way and it grates on Vince to this day. They argue, fight, drink and even smoke some pretty authentic dope until Jon confesses to a crime that may not have occurred, and it falls to Amy to sort out these two losers before retreating to her own safe life.
What was really going on here? That’s the charm of the show. No one is straight up about anything; its all conflict based on incomplete information, speculation, and a miss remembered past. Roundy keeps up the pressure, he’s a tough, manipulative guy and you think he might have done well in law or politics. He dresses for the street, and seedy as this motel room is it seems like a small luxury to him. Ginel may be more desperate but he dresses better and folds when pressed. He has yet to learn how to get a patron and squeeze them for money but I suspect he’ll pick up on that skill soon enough. Raitano feels the most balanced, she has a good job and a non-psycho boyfriend and she makes Vince jump when she calls in her local cops. With multiple layers of meaning and murky motivations, director Harbaugh finds the path to forge this testosterone and alcohol into a coherent, gripping production. Then there’s the set; semi working plumbing and absolutely filthy walls and furniture completely discouraged anyone from crossing that invisible wall. The only thing missing here was the mustiness and stale cigarette smoke Motel 6 uses for disinfectant. With the demise of Theater Downtown, this company looks like our new go to for serious modern American drama.