Len and Ernest
nytheatre.com review by James Comtois
August 12, 2007
Len and Ernest is a 50-minute two-person show that's ultimately all buildup and no payoff. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. This is not a play about revelations or conclusions: it's about waiting, contemplation, reflection, and regret.
The play takes place in a bar in Brooklyn where two men, Len and Ernest, await phone instructions for a job. We're never told what the job is, but we're made to assume it's some sort of heist or otherwise illegal job.
When they get the call, both men contemplate that this job may be a trap, since the instructions are that Ernest goes alone. In addition to never explaining what the job is (all we know is that Ernest has to drive somewhere in Brooklyn and go to an address—that's it), the men never explicitly state that one of them could be set up for a mob-style hit. We're only led to assume these things.
Len, the apparent owner of the bar, is a younger and gruffer man: sullen, tight-lipped, and prone to anger. Ernest is an older and twitchier guy, always on edge and constantly thinking out loud.
I'm guessing that finding out what the job is or if indeed the job is some sort of front for a hit is beside the point: the bulk of what these two men end up talking about has to do with wondering how their lives ended up the way they did, and wondering if such contemplation is even worthwhile. After all, what good is wondering what could have been if you had the courage to strike up a conversation with a beautiful woman in a food store? What good is wondering what would have been if you zigged earlier in life rather than zagged?
Both Francesco Saviano (who also wrote the script) as Len and Michael Buscemi as Ernest are appealing, interesting performers, and their dialogue throughout is also engaging and interesting. Even though you don't know exactly what they're talking about, you understand these men and who they are, and you're interested in hearing them speak. Mauricio Bustamante's natural and confident direction helps keeps the audience's attention.
Still, I do wish they offered some insight to the specifics of what they were talking about. That the job is some sort of heist and that their fears about making mistakes in life are related to possibly getting whacked is pure guesswork on my part.
The show that deliberately lacks payoff is nothing new. Sometimes it can work quite well (the final episode of The Sopranos is an obvious recent example). While it's a little more of a letdown here and more of a sign of an incomplete script rather than a deliberate gimmick, this is still a very engaging show.