John Donne said “no man is an island.” Playwright Samuel D. Hunter’s world premiere disagrees. Matthew, QZ, and Bryan live sealed-off, isolated lives, though a thousand miles from any ocean.
More to the point, they’re cut off from themselves.
The millennium’s at hand. A time for reflection and, as Louise tells Thelma, a time “let go of the old mistakes.”
Maybe that’s why Bryan’s come back to the Northern Idaho newspaper he and trucker-buddy Jim started four years ago. Maybe not. Bryan’s mostly mum on most topics.
The Few was a journal for voiceless truckers to tell their stories and have a sanctuary during or after a long haul. Some say the enterprise was a success, even though when Bryan left it was $12,000 in the hole.
Now QZ’s turned things around. The paper now has 15 pages of personal ads, a horoscope (which she makes up), and her column. It’s become a terse, USA Today for the lovelorn.
(A guy’s ad reads: “I like sex. And it’s important for me to have that”).
We never learn what her initials mean. And QZ was what? Bryan’s X? Of sorts? Not quite clear, except that all she tells him now is to “shut up!” Often. Gratingly often.
Young Matthew (who writes poems, he says, but isn’t a poet) provides links between past and present. Like the people who phone in personal ads, he talks in fragments - about the paper’s original idealism, about maybe his hero Bryan coming back.
The Few’s doing something I like a lot. As privacy becomes more and more an endangered species (the “social” media will probably declare it a sin by 2020), Hunter creates characters we don’t know everything about. He doesn’t Google us their bios. Or give us handy traits we can sum up. We only have what’s before us.
In Godfather II, after his brother arrives at the Senate Hearing and Frankie Five Angels goes silent, Michael Corleone says to his wife, “it was between the brothers, Kate.” We will never know what that was (nor, the movie suggests, are we entitled to).
The characters in Few remain mysterious even after the curtain falls.
Though not necessarily original, the writing is daring for these times of alleged emotional opaqueness.
But somewhere between the script and the staging, it falls flat.
Matthew, QZ, and Bryan are icebergs – and icy to boot. Director Davis McCallum moves the piece at a near-glacial pace. Though there are moments of humor – in some of the ads – the over-all tone is so cold stone sober it’s as if Mr. Godot pulled up in an 18-wheeler, by mistake, and sucked all the air out of the office.
Eva Kaminsky, superb in the Globe’s Good People, has no room to move and plays QZ as a one-note harpy. Young Gideon Glick expresses sincere feelings but often speaks so fast he blurs key lines.
Michael Laurence’s Bryan does the opposite. He takes forever to talk. When he does he consistently stops, mid-sentence, then runs through to the next mid-sentence and stops again. Laurence plays true to the character, but he hits the gravitas note so hard he drags scenes down.
Dane Laffrey’s set struck a nostalgic note for me. Small, creamy-white video display terminals, stacks of browning newspapers, catalogues of stuff in cardboard boxes, a ceramic water cooler – reminded me of the old Reader office at State Street. A difference: the set’s so clogged with details it feels (appropriately) claustrophobic.
Though the characters need more breathing room.