nytheatre.com review by Anthony Nelson
July 21, 2006
William Donnelly's Remuda is both a slacker comedy and a play about the fear each of us has about finding our place in an uncaring world. Unfortunately, the darker undertones take too long to develop, and the play shifts gears too abruptly to be really affecting.
Remuda is the story of two brothers, Keith (Chris Mazza) and Craig (Bradley Wells), who wile away their days in their father's basement. The brothers, who have won a small sum of money by playing the lottery, describe themselves as "Unemployed. Gainfully" and display little ambition beyond beating each other at video games. They seem content, but arguments about who has to do even minor things like calling for Chinese delivery betray a real fear of contact with the outside world. This placid existence is interrupted by mysterious baked goods, whose provider is soon revealed to be their father's new girlfriend, Fay (Luciana Magnoli).
This new, and very attractive, presence in their lives throws the brothers into turmoil, as Fay tries to force them to deal with the world beyond the basement. The two at first resist her attempts, but then, as she forces her way into video game sessions and brings breakfast along regularly, begin to believe she may have more in mind than simply bonding. The word "Remuda" means the "herd of horses from which those to be used for the day are chosen", and the brothers begin, unconsciously at first, to jockey for Fay's attention. Fay is clearly a wounded soul, but it's never clear why she has nothing to do besides spend days at a time flirting with her boyfriend's children. When the characters stop bickering about minor slights and talk about what has caused them to withdraw from the real world, those feelings come pouring out in enormous monologues that seem to come from nowhere and left me behind completely.
Under Tzipora Kaplan's direction the actors never seem to be quite in synch. There is clearly plenty of comedy in the first section of the play, but the jokes don't land because the actors seem to be talking across each other.
The transitions between scenes are jarring, with colored lights and music. It was unclear to me how we were supposed to view these transitions, as sometimes they seemed to indicate the passing of time, and at other points the actors kept performing during them. There were a number of problems with sound cues appearing suddenly or running a moment too long, which also contributed to knocking me out of the story.
Mazza is energetic and fun, but often seems to be acting in his own play. Wells does an extremely nice job of underplaying his part, and the directness and simplicity with which he presents Craig's final monologue go a long way toward rescuing the end of the piece. As Fay, Luciana Magnoli is vivacious and funny, but even she can't reconcile the contradictions of her character, whose decisions are too nonsensical to allow us to have real sympathy for her.
The play has some good points to make about the loneliness of modern life, and real reservoirs of feeling within each of the characters. I just wish Donnelly had made some more realistic decisions about how to draw those feelings out of them.