Also see Dean's review of The Rainmaker
It's as if both writers were in the same graduate playwriting class at Columbia or NYU and were given the following assignment: You can have only two characters, a man and a woman. The man has to be Mr. Sincerity. The woman has to be standoffish and committment-phobic. They have sex on the day they meet. Take it from there. And for God's sake, get them out of New York. There are already too many New York plays.
Whatever scenario the writers devise (and these two plays are very different from each other), we know the characters are going to end up realizing (or admitting, since they've felt it all along) that, as Mr. Springsteen told us years ago: "Everybody needs a place to rest/Everybody wants to have a home/Don't make no difference what nobody says/Ain't nobody like to be alone." Maybe it's no coincidence that the male character in Phoenix is named Bruce.
I know that the above sounds pretty snide, but the plays do work. The success or failure of plays like this depends not so much on the plot but on the believability and likability of the characters, since that's really all there is is two people talking. And just as much on the believability and likability of the actors portraying them. Here's where Duke City Rep has a leg up. Amelia Ampuero and Frank Green are naturals in these roles.
Frank is totally sympathetic as Bruce, the nice guy who gets caught up in something completely unexpected. His performance is toned down, not theatrical, and super charming. A playgoer never knows how much of the interpretation of a role depends upon the actor and how much upon the director (in this case, Katie Becker), but there must have been some magical synergy going on because this is the best performance I have ever seen by Frank.
For most of the play, the character of Sue is nowhere near as sympathetic, but that might be because the playwright gives her no backstory, as he does for Bruce. Amelia very appropriately does not pander to the audience to make us like Sue. I think this is brave of an actor, to play the character without worrying how much the audience will like her, and in that sense, she becomes even more likeable.
The dialogue is mostly rapid-fire, and it must have taken an awful lot of practice to go nonstop for 75 minutes without stumbling or hesitation. Again, congratulations to the actors and the director. However, although the performances are flawless, the play is not without some faults.
Some of the dialogue is Mamet-ish, which works for Mamet but for almost no one else. The word "fucking," used as an adjective or adverb, is sometimes used naturally here but other times seems gratuitous, in that it doesn't sound like the characters would have interjected that word in that particular sentence. When that happens, it interferes with the flow, and the flow of the conversation here is all important.
In the middle of the play, there is an extended back-and-forth about time travel. I know why it's in thereto give Bruce an opportunity to soften up Sue with his creativity and witbut it just doesn't seem to me that this dialogue would ever take place under the circumstances these two people find themselves in.
Nevertheless, the play is enjoyable, with several laughs, some drama, and a satisfying ending. I've been purposefully vague about the plot, hoping that you will see the play for yourself. The performances make it well worth the effort.
Phoenix, a one-act play by Scott Organ, is being performed by Duke City Repertory at the Filling Station, 1024 4th St. SW in Albuquerque, through May 20, 2012. Performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:00 and Sunday at 2:00. Information at 505-797-7081 or dukecityrep.com.