If John Guare had given us only Six Degrees of Separation, it would’ve been enough. Hell, if he’d never written anything but the scene in Atlantic City where Burt Lancaster says, “The Atlantic Ocean was something then. Yes, you should’ve seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days,” his place in history would be assured. But Guare is a formidable American writer, whose absurd, sad, comic wit resonates like a secret password through a huge swath of our current theatrical culture.
He’s 75 years old now, so, given the common run of things, his 18 plays are on the verge of either rediscovery or an extended period of neglect. Maybe it’s a good omen, then, that quirky-interesting Jackalope Theatre Company has chosen to present one of his earliest—Rich and Famous, from 1974. It’s the tale of Bing Ringling, a kind of off-Broadway Job, who finds his life disintegrating on the evening his first produced play opens. Actually, “disintegrating” is too gentle a term. “Blown to smithereens” is more like it. The critics wish him dead. Various mentors betray him. There’s a mind-bogglingly dysfunctional interlude involving his parents. Like the events in many of Guare’s scripts, Bing’s bad night is so horrific it’s funny and so ridiculous it’s devastating. And also, somehow, full of tenderness.
Necessarily pared down in a small space, Nate Silver’s staging is full of resourcefulness. Equally important, it makes excellent use of some prime young talent. Bernard Balbot gives a where-have-you-been-all-our-lives performance in multiple roles; he’s particularly uncanny as Bing’s dad. Baize Buzan distinguished herself late last year, in Failure, A Love Story, demonstrating a singular ability to incandesce. Here, she shows she can do it at will. That talent is in glorious evidence during a crucial bit at the very beginning of the show, when she’s playing opposite Andrew Burden Swanson’s Bing, and—at least for a moment—their future looks so bright they ought to wear shades.