The Main(e) Play
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 23, 2008
"The world must be peopled" - Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing
Even the most diehard bachelor in all of Shakespeare concluded that children are, on balance, a good thing to have; it's tough to watch a play's protagonist rail honestly but kind-of malevolently against his own nephew, a rambunctious seven-year-old whom he calls "a monstrosity." The boy's crimes include stealing his uncle's wallet, shooting him with his BB gun, and hitting him with a toy truck; he's a naughty kid, no doubt about it. But when Shane, The Main(e) Play's central character, condemns his nephew Jay with virulence in the climactic scene of the drama, it is nevertheless a little hard to take.
However, Jay is merely the catalyst for what happens in this intense and often funny new piece by Chad Beckim (whose earlier work 'nami is published in NYTE's Plays and Playwrights 2007). This is, fundamentally, a play about the dissolution of an American family, and so thematically follows in a long and hallowed tradition of American works from Williams to Wolfe. The twist here is that the family, for all intents and purposes, has no parents: the pivotal familial tie for brothers Shane and Roy seems to be their own, and when Shane—a New York City actor—comes home to spend Thanksgiving in Maine with construction worker Roy and his son, he starts to realize that "home" is no longer where he thought it was:
My room is gone. My bed is gone. Thanksgiving is dead. The cereal is moved to different cabinets. And these fucking toys are everywhere. Mom isn’t my mom any more, and you, you aren’t my brother any more, you’re someone’s father.
Beckim, who has said that The Main(e) Play is based in autobiography, excels at showing us the deep relationship between these two brothers—young men who, despite all the differences in their interests and tastes and desires, remain fundamentally and ineluctably bound together. Shane and Roy not only love each other deeply, they like each other; their horseplay and their reminiscing all ring true, and so when their relationship starts to falter, we're aware of just how much is at stake.
There are two other characters who contribute to the family meltdown, Shane's ex-girlfriend Jessica, and Roy's longtime best pal Rooster, both of whom, like Roy, stayed here in Maine while Shane went off to become, if not a big success, then something utterly different in the Big City. Beckim perhaps weighs everyone down with more baggage than he strictly needs to, but the play progresses tautly and sharply under Robert O'Hara's direction toward the confrontation that we know is coming from the get-go.
The brothers' characters are portrayed with love by their author, and Beckim—an actor as well as a playwright—is particularly adept at skewering the peccadilloes of performers in his depiction of Shane, who for all his supposed sophistication and independence is very impressed with himself for having made a Gap commercial with Lionel Richie and is ready to jump at his agent's command to attend an inconveniently timed audition. And although the themes here are pretty serious, Beckim laces the play throughout with ample humor.
Alexander Alioto does a fine job in the central role of Shane, and Michael Gladis is sympathetic as Roy. Gladis feels years older than Alioto on stage, though, which kept gnawing at me throughout, because I was certain that Roy was supposed to be younger than Shane. (The script, which I checked afterward, confirms this.) The play would likely feel different if Shane and Roy's relative positions in the pecking order were made clearer; I'd be interested in seeing it again, because this a rich and unusual drama that comes directly from the heart—the kind that can pierce most bitterly.