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The Salvage Shop

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

"Nothing is beyond redemption," rings an oft-repeated line in Jim Nolan's The Salvage Shop, which just opened at the Storm Theatre. As the titular Garris, Ireland furniture fix-up store specializes in making worn-down pieces look and feel like new again, who can blame the proprietor for thinking that what works well for chairs will also work for human lives?

That itself is a shop-worn idea, and not one that Nolan worries much about breathing new life into. He's content with applying it, in a straightforward fashion, to a father and son who were brought together by their love of music, but were also riven by it (the son, experiencing severe marital troubles, bowed out during an important competition). Now the father has been diagnosed with cancer and has at most six months to live; time is running out for the two to effect a reconciliation.

Yes, similar concepts have fueled any number of other plays, often successfully. But if there's nothing about Nolan's take on this story that sets it apart as an exceptional example of its genre, nor does it ever appreciably falter. The play is, in many ways, rigidly conventional, but it's part of that best kind of theatrical convention, the kind that may not offer explosive new insights but still delivers its familiar, comforting goods in solid ways.

This means that the son, Eddie (Paul Anthony McGrane), and the father, Sylvie (David Little), are scrupulously drawn portraits of two men whose stubbornness and belief in their own feelings and abilities have destroyed the bond they most want to preserve. The supporting roles, which include Eddie's daughter Katie (Kristen Bush) and a member of Sylvie's locally acclaimed band named Stephen (Roland Johnson), appropriately reflect and refract the central duo. The plot, in which Eddie schemes to brighten Sylvie's spirits with a local concert featuring Luciano Pavarotti, might follow a clearly prescribed map but never loses track of the crucial father-son relationship.

That shines radiantly through even the play's creakiest, most visibly constructed lines: "It was never about the winning, Eddie - it was about striving for the best," sounds one, "A toast, to the color of what is, to acceptance," goes another. Director Peter Dobbins has worked tremendously hard to give this play a realistic, but not gritty, feeling, and admirably succeeds in bringing the culture and personality of Garris to Midtown Manhattan; lines like these jolt you uncomfortably back to the reality of Off-Off-Broadway theatre.

Thankfully, they're all that do: Todd Edward Ivins's set deftly depicts the cozy, crowded salvage shop, complete with a wall of chairs that seems to hover in space; Michael Abrams's sensitive lighting always keeps the action strongly in focus. The supporting actors bring plenty of color to Garris and Eddie and Sylvie's lives: Karen Eke brings an especially delightful businesswoman-like panache to Eddie's girlfriend, Rita, but everyone presents a vibrant, real person to help anchor the explosive Eddie-Sylvie pairing.

The only fault in McGrane and Little's work is Little's tendency to push too hard (and too loudly) when Sylvie must display his most fiery anger - at those times, he seems too stagy and affected to completely convince. But Little's more inwardly directed moments and his gradual transition from strength to dependence come across beautifully, and McGrane's portrayal of a man working his way through multiple layers of personal frustration is an attractive, intricate creation that only gains in complexity and depth as the show goes on.

Much the same can be said of The Salvage Shop, which lives up to Sylvie's central promise of bringing out the hard-to-find worth in anything. Yes, it may be a play overly calculated to break your heart without breaking new ground, but a run-of-the-mill success is a success nonetheless.

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The Salvage Shop
Through November 19
Storm Theatre, 145 West 46th Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Smarttix