SING THE BLUES FOR LADY
by Harvey Perr
published September 19, 2008
now playing Off Broadway at the Rattlestick Theater
through October 11
Three old friends meet for their annual weekend hunting trip, bearing guns, two carrying with them not terribly repressed grudges,
one too stoned to stand up as a referee between his two pals. With tension in the air, and rifles at the ready, you can be sure that,
sooner or later, at least one of the guns is going to go off. It goes off sooner rather than later, and the victim is Lady, the stoner’s dog and the title of Craig Wright’s new play. The question then is who shot the dog, a
question that becomes less and less important as the play moves forward, even as it remains at the heart of the matter. This is the sort of
play from which we expect much macho muscularity. The surprise is that Wright brings, instead, elegance and a sense of elegy to the
That it always catches us off-guard is its greatest virtue. That it doesn’t fulfill our more ghoulish expectations drains the play
of some of its tautness. But the sheer beauty of the writing and the sensitive exploration and illumination of the characters is more than
enough to sustain us and convince us that what we are watching is one of the few new American plays of recent years truly worthy of our
time and patience.
The Rattlestick Playwrights Theater seems to be more than aware of this and has given the play one of its very best productions.
It starts with John McDermott’s evocative set.
It is not merely an accurate depiction of a clearing in the woods 40 miles outside
Bethany, Illinois; it is just as much a dreamscape. And it is lit with haunting precision by Nicole Pearce as it moves from night to daybreak.
Together, these design elements capture a mood of mystery and loneliness than can be found in the writing itself, and are augmented by Eric
Shim’s piercing and sometimes elusive sounds.
Dexter Bullard, in his artful direction, understands the frisson created by paranoia, but here he is equally attuned to the quiet
and the strangeness pulsing through the interior latitudes of the play. And he has elicited
powerhouse performances from his three actors.
David Wilson Barnes, as Graham, the Democratic assemblyman who has acquiesced to the Bush doctrine and stands impassively behind
that decision, is cool and earthbound, solid in his refusal to reveal his secret feelings and, at the same time, potentially fragile. Paul
Sparks, as Dyson – who supported Graham until Graham’s actions inspired his own son to enlist – is volatile in his anger, furious in his
grief, a sustained-release time bomb who unconsciously rages against his own humane instincts. Michael Shannon, as Kenny, the stoner, is
the most recognizable, because he is the one most open to all his feelings and vulnerable to hurt, but closed off to the explosive feelings
coming at him from every direction, and Shannon conveys all of these conflicting emotions with touching delicacy.
Given that the evening is so theatrically rich because of these
extraordinarily complex portraits, it may be churlish of this reviewer to suggest that these actors are a bit too young for their parts. This
is, at heart, a play about middle age, and a brilliant play at that, and if played by more mature actors, it might actually invoke genuine
heartbreak. As it stands, it is merely a potent and thrilling and quietly moving piece of real theater. Is that enough? I should think
harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com