There really is nothing like theater.
I had seen Wrecks, written and directed by Neil LaBute, at the Public Theater in New York when it premiered there. I paid for my ticket, I sat in the back row, and I spent the evening on the edge of my seat, leaning forward, chin on hands...while Ed Harris charmed all of us, leading us down the dark.ish path of Ed Carr, a man who had just lost his beloved wife, JoJo.
When I was notified by the Bush Theater in London it would be playing during my time here, Loo and I decided to see it, so I could enjoy the play again, and she could take it in for the first time. LaBute wasn't directing, but, it was still one of his works, and I do loves me my LaBute.
The UK version starred Robert Glenister and was directed by their artistic director, Josie Rourke. Once again, it was a stark, simple set... you walk in, and you are confronted by a casket..nothing more.
It tips you off this will not be your average play.
And, that it isn't. It's a 75 minute monologue, given by Ed, who takes your hand and leads you down the trails of his life-- his bringing up in foster homes, his discovery of his JoJo, their courtship and subsequent life together. He tells of their kingdom of car rental locations; created by restoring old wrecked classic cars, and their huge success with that business. He touches lightly on their two daughters and JoJo's two sons from her previous marriage. The whole focus of his life, it seemed, was JoJo, the business...oh, and his almost equally beloved cigarettes, which he puffs all through the show... Wait! You mind if he smokes? Why, would you deny a grieving widower anything in his time of sorrow?
I'm a huge fan of LaBute. Unlike some, I don't find him to be misogynistic in any way. I actually think his men tend to come off as the cads, the wimps, the fearful ones...the ones who don't quite get what life is all about, who make promises they will never keep. I have maintained that his work has a solid bedrock built on the subject of love--how we abuse it, use it, discard it, steal, cheat, lie and destroy other people in its name. This particular play is an excellent example of that theory... what we will do for love.
This is a lovely, rich, intense monologue, that holds you steady for the full 75 minutes, as you listen to Ed and his stream of consciousness discussion, occasionally referring to the sounds of his other 'self' and others who murmur in the background via soundtrack... and, with that nice way he has of delivering it, a full on twist that makes you go, "WTF? W.T.F.???" in the last few moments of the show. I heard a nice full on gasp come up from the audience I attended with, showing they were pulled in and rightfully shocked by said moment.
After watching Harris, I was a bit concerned. I mean, Ed Harris? He had you from the first moment with his 'join me for a bit of soul searching' smile and those eyes that are a richer blue than you can imagine, crinkling in laughter and smiles..something deep and sad in them the entire time.
Glenister didn't disappoint. He had a different take on his character, a different delivery, a different version of the journey.... however, he, too, pulled you in, took you with him in his woven storyline... and, even knowing the 'twist', I still had a slight shock.
The two productions were alike in set, yet vastly different. The Harris work had a shiny black casket, and a very American feel to the funeral setting. The Bush set design is a bit more British, wood casket, smaller flowers and photo of the beloved. Glenister is a shade more casual in his dress, Harris being very crisp in his mourner's attire.
I was pleased on Glenister's dialect, he sounded very American, something that has caused issues in other productions in London of American plays... a lack of a convincing American dialect. He carried the flat sound of the Midwest in a positive way, and I didn't find it jarring or annoying at all, just... well.... American.
LaBute's script is woven with humour, loss, pride and that evasive love. His words cling to you, attached to your memory after you've left the theater. The lines can soar past, then bounce back to hit you with a solid 'THWACK!'. I heard the play discussed by a group who were in the same restaurant we adjourned to afterwards...discussed with awe and passion and their version of four words Ed whispers (and we never hear) to his dying Jo. It was interesting to hear other viewpoints, and a compliment to the playwright that the dinner discussion was not what they should have, but, what and why and wow! over the play they'd just seen.
There was a just under full house... although sold out, there were huge traffic problems, keeping some patrons from arriving on time. You never seat anyone after a show starts until intermission, and, with no intermission, if you weren't there, you missed out. The Bush only seats around 86 people, so, there was a wonderful intimate feeling you didn't get from the Public.
I highly recommend this play, should you have a chance to see it. London theater remains very affordable, with these tickets less than 18 pounds. The Bush is an amazing venue, and the subject of a petition signing to keep it from closing last year.
Ed Carr is a multi-layered, diverse, complex, controlling man, who never gave up in his desire to find and keep love.
He would do anything for love--anything.
Wrecks, written by Neil LaBute, directed by Josie Rourke. Playing at the Bush Theater, 2 Shepherd's Bush Green, London, W12 8QD, 020 8743 5050--above the O'Neil Pub. 9 February-28 March, 2009 at 7.30.