nytheatre.com review by Anthony Pennino
June 11, 2008
The plot of Safe, Ron Fitzgerald's new play currently playing a limited run at Studio Dante, is a by-the-numbers crime-spree drama with echoes of Starkweather, Bonnie and Clyde, and In Cold Blood. The reason to see this play is not the plot. The reason to see this play—and it is a big reason—is the characters.
Told as a series of monologues, the play is a fascinating and compelling study of three down-and-out characters: Muzzy, Van, and Ginger. Fitzgerald rightly focuses on developing these unique individuals; the playwright investigates their pasts, their pains, and their loneliness as well as their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. The mechanics of the plot—how they meet up, how their first job goes awry, how they conduct their heists (usually safes), and how they go after that one last big score—are a means of anchoring the audience to the time and place the characters find themselves at any given moment. Fitzgerald's real interest is not in linear story construction, but in the peeling back of each layer of the onion that is the characters' psychology. Fitzgerald's writing is alternately touching, poetic, brutal, darkly humorous, and mournful. There is a Kerouacian sensibility in this elegiac exploration of off-the-beaten-track Americana that informs the setting of the play. Indeed, there is an edge throughout the play of a larger condemnation of society as a whole.
The cast is masterful. Patch Darragh imbues the macho chip-on-the-shoulder Van with vulnerability, insecurity, and inchoate sensitivity. What is particularly striking is how the actor inhabits the quieter moments of his character. Two monologues—one about his childhood dog, the other about his father—are delivered with an understated power that should touch the stoniest of hearts. Jess Weixler, as Van's girlfriend Ginger, mixes a complex cocktail of toughness, melancholy, and existential acceptance. In the hands of a less capable actress, Ginger could be turned into a poor Southern girl cliché, but Weixler pushes against the temptations of pathos at every turn. A particular revelation is Alfredo Narciso's work as Muzzy. Muzzy is the perpetual third-wheel, tailing along with Van and Ginger simply for their company. Muzzy is a frequent resident of mental hospitals, and Narciso brings the lightest of touches in shading his character with that history. He finds the warmth in this strange broken man. Across the board, there is an honesty to the performances, a willingness to serve the story and not find "actorly" moments. This is becoming quite a rarity on today's stage.
Zetna Fuentes's direction is simple and effective. The story is kept clear as well as the relationships among the characters. I almost wish that the production team had decided to make use of a bare stage; the world of the play is clearly evoked in the author's words.
Safe is far from the usual caper piece. In fact, the major twist/revelation at the end of the play has to do with Muzzy's character and not a plot point. But it is one well worth a visit to the theatre.