nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
December 2, 2005
In Coronado, Dennis Lehane’s new crime drama, the milk of human kindness is decidedly skim. One character sums up his attitude towards the battle of the sexes by declaring, “They fuck us so we’ll pay the electric.” Another character belittles her former lover by saying, “You stuck your dick in my mouth because you felt ancillary? Oh, boo hoo!” A father celebrates his grown son’s release from prison by giving him drugs and a hooker. Coronado is filled with such moments, often for their own sake. For as craftily plotted and carefully thought out as Lehane’s theatrical debut is, it breaks no new ground on its major themes: love, revenge, and the lengths to which people will go for both.
Set in an unnamed Western town, Coronado tells the story of three seemingly disparate duos: a young couple having an illicit affair; a nameless woman and her former psychiatrist, both smarting from an ill-advised affair together; and a father and son on the hunt for a missing woman and a stolen diamond. At first it looks as if these three pairs are unrelated. But as Coronado unfolds, it becomes clear that they all share a tragic and violent history.
Coronado features a fair amount of unpleasantness. Characters meet ugly and untimely ends, and shoot to kill with verbal jabs: they’re not the most likable bunch to spend two hours with. There’s also a detectable streak of misogyny in the play that is not altogether tasteful. (It may be true to the characters, but that doesn’t make it any more fun to watch.) But, Lehane seems to know these people very well. They feel authentic, and do not seem mysterious to him. He knows what makes them tick. And he crafts an intricately woven plot that holds a couple of genuine surprises (which I won’t reveal here). Lehane also knows how to push an audience’s buttons, be it with a well-placed turn of phrase or a perfectly-timed revelation. There are several parts of Coronado that are quite moving, partly because Lehane knows that love and revenge, those eternal themes, never get old. His writing has confidence, and he seems interested in spinning a good yarn, rather than making a statement. It’s that last part that ultimately dooms Coronado to being nothing more than Sam Shepard Lite: all of the intensity, but none of the mythic proportions. Theatregoers seeking substantial nourishment are advised to look elsewhere.
Coronado’s biggest asset is its cast, a crack ensemble whose energy and skill give the play its best chance to achieve greater heights. All the actors do a splendid job, but the standout performances belong to Rebecca Miller and Lance Rubin as the young lovers; Gerry Lehane and Avery Clark as the father-and-son team; and Maggie Bell as the missing woman. For his part, director David Epstein does a serviceable job, despite some awkward scene changes and momentum-shattering blackouts.
Coronado, ultimately, is a mixed bag. As much as I admire Lehane for trying a new medium on for size (he is already an established novelist and television writer), I wish he had something more substantive to say. Hopefully next time he will.