nytheatre.com review by Robert Attenweiler
August 14, 2010
If you're at all concerned that getting three characters—two of them childhood rivals and the third the pretty young wife of the one who got out of town—together in an empty garage with an abundance of beer and fried chicken on a hot Arkansas night will end with all three sharing a good hug and a pat on the back, don't worry. Garage has got some teeth ... and the sharp ones, thankfully, outnumber the chipped.
Garage, currently playing at the 4th Street Theatre, opens on a barren black box. A single overhead light hangs from the ceiling and David (Nathan Riley) yells at his dead father for leaving him the mechanic's garage that was the center of the father's strong bond with many of his workers and the embodiment of the distance between the Alpha male, Emmett, and his more introspective, studious son. David is accompanied by his wife, Susan (Jenna Kirk), who is taking her first trip back to David's hometown, that he left 16 years ago and hasn't returned to since. Enter Brandon (the fantastic Bryce Kemph), a once troubled boy whom Emmett took under his wing. Brandon is eccentric to say the least. But there is a masculinity and a recklessness that is magnetic ... to Susan, at least. Brandon revered Emmett as much as David despised him and as the three chug booze, old wounds quickly come to the surface and catch fire.
As I alluded to earlier, the set-up of this play just plain works, especially when much of the conflict is introduced and then driven by Kemph's Brandon. This play, which was written collectively by Dive Theatre (Michael Hogwood, Jason Cutler, Betsy Jilka, Kirk, Kemph, and Riley) lets these characters needle each other (with Brandon doing the bulk of the needling) until someone snaps. There are past issues to be resolved and new issues to be unearthed and since Brandon is intent on keeping things slightly on edge even between blow-ups, we get to see the actors ride the ever-present conflict to the play's strong conclusion. Hogwood's direction is clean, using the mostly empty stage well.
Garage is not a wholly successful production, however. Much of the play's running time is spent with the characters telling stories to move the plot along. Stories about Emmett and David's relationship. Stories about Emmett and Brandon's relationship. Stories about Susan and David's relationship. We see far less than we're told.
When we do see some action, it can be bloody and violent. One incident was particularly shocking, though—without giving too much away—the shock was later dissipated when we learn that the character doesn't even remember the violence happening. If no one has to deal with the consequences, I'd argue it's shock for shock's sake, which is not what most of this well-devised new show is all about.