END OF THE NIGHT
Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company
After only a couple of years, it’s too early to tell for sure, but the Mary-Arrchie company appears to suffer from end-of-season fatigue. Two of the three one-acts that make up this year’s finale, “End of the Night,” which takes its title from an early Doors song, have been mounted previously and most of the actors are playing characters to which they seem to have become accustomed.
The three plays are united thematically by their focus on the behavior of men in the company of other men. What do these men do together? Well, they make noise. A lotta noise. And messes. They play music at ear-shattering volume. They dump over trash cans. They drink cheap wine. They smoke bad dope. They piss and puke. They call each other nasty names. They call themselves nasty names. They get in bloody fights. They get drafted. They join the Marines. Sometimes they kill themselves.
Matt Borczon’s Wild Dogs details the final conversations between two dissimilar individuals: Trevor King, whose wife has just thrown him out of the house for terminal wimpiness, and his unlikely buddy Rex, whose own wife left him years ago. King had been hiding his harmless but repulsive uncle in the attic, and when the hapless relation died there, he postponed giving his wife the news until the decomposing corpse forced him to do so. He has been taken in by Rex, abandoned by his wife after he suddenly gave up his teaching career to become a truck driver. By this time, however, the Huckleberry Finn dream is wearing thin–permanently snake-brained on Mad Dog 20/20, Rex howls like a bloodhound, unwraps his food with his teeth, and eats off the floor. In his more lucid moments, he recounts tales of brawls where his only triumph was never crying uncle. (“Even the guy whopping me was telling me to stay down, I’d had enough. But I got back up, so they hit me a few more times and then took off. And I went off to lick my wounds and revel in my victory.”) Rex is lonely in this dog-eat-dog world, though, and welcomes King’s companionship–“Rex and King, wild dogs together”–if King will only stop clinging to his notions of commitment, responsibility, and moral autonomy. King’s ultimate refusal to adopt Rex’s kill-or-be-killed code leaves Rex no choice but to kill himself.
This last action is the only one in the play that rings false. A man like Rex–who insists on hearing only the negative side of King’s story, who prides himself on his endurance, who openly declares himself to be less than human–obviously enjoys punishment too much to want to put an end to all the fun. Granted, there is a particular breed of depressive who seeks to kill himself using somebody else as the tool of destruction. The trouble with suicide, however, is that you can only do it once, and juicehounds like Rex, however loudly and enthusiastically they may invite death, have a way of somehow avoiding any accident that may actually prove fatal. The sudden appearance of a loaded revolver with which the self-proclaimed Mad Dog can put himself out of his misery is an unfortunate contrivance on what would otherwise be a razor-sharp portrait of a pathologically disfranchised personality.
Jane Willis’s Slam! opens in the men’s room of a punk club where Linc’s nose is bleeding after an energetic slam dance. As he searches in vain for something to stanch the wound (no paper in here, naturally), Mel appears, bringing a Kotex he’s stolen from the women’s room. While they wait in relative seclusion for Linc to convalesce, Linc reveals that he has enlisted in the Marines. “I can’t go back to high school. I wanna be spectacular 25 hours a day.” Mel, who stays in school only to postpone going into his father’s business, is horrified at first but eventually concedes that “sometimes you gotta lose a lot to get a little.” The two reaffirm their friendship, Mel promising to take care of Linc’s motorcycle and girlfriend, before diving back into the disco jungle.
The circumstance of these two conducting a tete-a-tete in a place so noisy that they are forced to shout at each other gives Slam a looniness that, even while it nearly renders much of the dialogue unintelligible, emphasizes the empty silliness that lies at the center of the most frenzied activity. Willis has created characters as real in their very shallowness as their environment is in its dreariness, making this, the shortest of the evening’s plays, the most successful as well.
The weakest play of the evening’s three is Arlene Cook’s Gas Mask 101, which resembles nothing so much as a nostalgic–the play was written in 1985–attempt to summarize the mind of America’s Youth circa 1970 by constructing five slogan-spouting points of view feebly disguised as human beings. We have Swami, the introspective communicator with the cosmic everything; Bus, the rhetoric-spewing politico (“I got busted for the second time this quarter.” “But we’re only three days into the quarter.” “Yeah–isn’t college wonderful?”); and Reuter, the self-righteous square who defends the status quo with insights like, “You fight against everything, but what are you fighting for?” (How these three come to be hanging about together is never explained.) We also have the naive freshman Hula, and multiple-year senior Honch, who’s just been drafted.
One of the hazards of nostalgia for the 60s is the tendency to regard everything these kids do as sweet, innocent, romantic, and lovable (Michael Weller’s Moonchildren being perhaps the best-known example of this sentimental approach). Thus, Bus’s habit of wearing a gas mask everywhere he goes is presented as a cute personal statement rather than a stupid affectation. The mean-spirited trick of dosing Hula with a mind-bending drug (that apparently goes to work in five seconds) and then trying to disorient him, which would have been an inexcusable breach of etiquette in 1970, is here laughed off as a schoolboy prank. Details such as LSD brand names, campy film festivals, pseudo-health foods, and news stories quoted verbatim are tossed into the script for no apparent reason other than to demonstrate the extent of the author’s research or her nonselective memory. There are also anachronisms like Bus’s pierced ear–a fashion that didn’t become widespread among men (except for performers) until some years later.
In their roles, the members of the Mary-Arrchie company do what we have come to expect of them: Brian Sandstrom does his usual buttoned- up nerd routine as King and later as Reuter; Ron Bieganski does his usual human beanbag bit as Mel; and Robert Maffia does a nice strong-and-silent Honch (his quiet farewell before driving to either the induction center or the Canadian border provides one chilling moment in an otherwise superficial script). Richard Cotovsky does both his slobbering beast turn as Rex and his serenely spaced-out guru turn as Swami. Notable newcomers to the Mary-Arrchie stage include David Grieco as the angel-faced Hula, and Greg Willis, who deserves some sort of bravery award for his portrayal of Linc–it’s not every young actor who is willing to spend most of his time onstage with wads of gynecological cotton protruding from his nose.
It is often said that males in our culture hesitate to discuss their feelings, and the revelations of those who populate “End of the Night” are certainly camouflaged in clouds of testosterone fumes. But through the fumbling and confusing explorations of what it means to be male nowadays, we can still see the faint glimmerings of humanity–which is, when all is said and done, unisex.