The Last Spoken Word
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 13, 2006
Frank Kuzler's new play The Last Spoken Word takes place in a rundown motel room in a small Western American town. Two brothers, rootless drifter Daniel and buttoned-up attorney David, converge here, on the trail of a mysterious treasure that their father supposedly left them—they don't know exactly what it is, or where; just that Dad, on his deathbed, left each of them clues about how to find it. The brothers, twins who couldn't be more incompatible, bring decades' worth of issues with them into this sloppy room. Pyrotechnic battles ensue.
The play is funny, often absurd in its details (Daniel has been traveling around the USA for three years, visiting the same address in dozens of random cities in a so-far futile quest to find whatever it is that his father left for him; David, tracking Daniel's progress, carries a marked-up National Geographic-style wall map in his briefcase, which he pins carefully onto the motel room wall). The brothers speak in not-quite-naturalistic dialogues and occasionally erupt in massive monologues (to themselves? to us?) that reveal exposition as well as motivation or secrets. I don't think I'm giving away anything crucial when I tell you that the big secret of Dad's legacy is never fully revealed; at least not in the way we expect. Nevertheless, the mystery drives The Last Spoken Word and keeps us mostly riveted as the brothers' investigations of it and of each other propel the play toward its conclusion.
Jarel Davidow plays David, a lawyer who is sort of scarily willing (eager) to tie up and torture his brother to find something that he doesn't even know what is (and doesn't seem particularly to actually need, save to feed his wounded pride). Tory Schaefer plays Daniel, three minutes younger and apparently more or less on the run from David ever since departing their mother's womb; we don't know where he lives or how he supports himself, only that Dad gave him the headstart on the road to the elusive treasure. Both actors are committed and compelling under Philip Emeott's brisk direction. Ann Warren's sound design includes an out-of-control water pipe that contributes an effective running joke to the proceedings. The uncredited set is terrific, especially inventively designed window and door units that also play key roles in the plot.
It's entertaining, but a little perplexing, for two reasons. First, I was aware of an allegorical feel throughout, but the point is delivered in a single lump at the very end of the play, keeping us guessing up until that moment as to the significance of what's going on. Second, and perhaps more troublesome, is the fact that everything about The Last Spoken Word feels so darned Sam Shepardy that I kept waiting for a metaphorical shoe to drop that would identify the piece as homage, parody, or retort. But that never happened.