The Man-Made Rock
nytheatre.com review by Pamela Butler
December 7, 2012
Five men ‘gone fishing’. What do men talk about and do together for a few hours while staring at their lines waiting for a bite? Here’s one possible scenario. Before sunrise, before the play begins, Bobby Cartman, sits in a lawn chair parked on a barge that is docked at the side of a large lake somewhere in Texas, his fishing rod pointing forward into the water, his fist wrapped around a bagged bottle of booze. He swigs occasionally in the dark
A beautiful sunrise begins to light the space, nice work by Daniel Owen Dungan, but it is suddenly broken off by a rising din above the morning birds (Libby Froeber’s sound design is tense and effective), and a faltering and dimming of the sun’s glow. A burst of white light shines from below the lake water itself and Bobby is down on the ground, his face inches from the surface staring into the light. The sound and light suddenly vanish, the sun resumes it’s rise and Bobby is thrown back into his chair. Is it a dream, or a nightmare?
The daylight illuminates the old barge, a set well wrought by David L. Arsenault and Megan Watters, and Bobby’s old fishing buddy, Cuz Flichley, arrives. Bobby tells him the story of what he saw that morning (which I will not reveal; see the play). Cuz, wonderfully played by Martin LaPlatney, is sixty going on eighty, and a fellow whiskey swigger who couldn’t catch a fish if it was thrown to him. Even I know how to hold a fishing rod, and either we accept that Cuz’s upside down grasp of his rod and reel is an unnoted eccentricity, or we wonder whether the director is missing this detail.
The two men are soon joined by Jimmy Holley, another local, and later on, his son Kyle, a theatre director visiting from New York. While it’s probable that Jimmy is a bit thrown off by the unexpected encounter with Bobby and Cuz, he remains frozen in one place, chatting, with all gear in hand for an uncomfortably long time. Surely he can talk and set his tackle box down at the same time, even if this chance meeting does bring up all sorts of ugly, unresolved issues and emotions. Pappy, the barge owner who is now so old he’s suffering from dementia, is the fifth man who periodically appears to check in with the fishermen and exchange humorous man talk.
The playwright has a real feel for his characters and how they might interact. Each is distinct and weighted with the peculiar varieties of local ignorance, superstition and narrow minded non-thought found in small towns everywhere, but maybe more so in Texas. The evening might leave you thinking Texas secession isn’t such a bad idea.
Stephen Bradbury as Pappy is amusing and self mocking and has great old guy physicality. Jon Krupp has a wonderfully expressive face and nicely evokes Jimmy, the good and decent guy with the terrible friend in Bobby. Bobby is one of those guys who embodies a whole lot that can go wrong with a man, and David Marantz gives him to us powerfully and head on. Kyle, Jimmy’s sensitive gay son, brings classic New York urbanity and enlightened, if ignored, reason to the fore in Blake DeLong’s hands.
What is missing is a connected, solid structure and satisfying climax for the drama. Like the lake full of fish none of these men can catch, the play allows numerous unpleasant revelations and observations to surface, but none are truly hooked into and dealt with. If it’s intentional, it’s unsatisfying.
At one point reference is made to the play’s title. The thought is of a planet so overrun by people that the natural world is turned into endless development and the entire earth’s surface becomes one big man made rock. An interesting idea, but I didn’t get how these flawed individuals fishing off a barge addresses it – unless their inability to change course suggests the inevitable. A bit of a stretch going way down the road.
More to the point, the action does suggest that no matter what efforts reasonable men make, there are always others who remain ignorant, deaf to reason, dangerous or quaint but otherwise without merit. And violence is often the result of their interactions. In the end communication fails and nobody catches a fish. Everyone leaves unchanged and empty handed even though the desired objects are right there in front of them. Their warped world views and poor skills leave them helpless to do anything but look into the water with wonder and unrequited longing, or go home angry, frustrated and blind drunk. I guess this is one answer to my question about men and fishing.
The dialog is good, the production handsome and well turned out, the acting excellent, but I still wanted someone to catch a fish.