David Rabe was so busy crisping audiences with his Vietnam War trilogy and powder keg plays like “Hurlyburly” that he never got around to writing that typical freshman work, the portrait of the dramatist as a young man.
“An Early History of Fire,” set in 1962 and the Midwest where Rabe grew up, fills that line on his c.v. It’s more sentimental than his previous works and flouts their bruising force.
Maybe waiting 40 years to write his “first” play was too long. The landscape -- the sexual revolution that came with the introduction of the Pill in 1960, the dawn of the Civil Rights era, the revelatory haze of pot -- is so well trod that it’s nearly impossible to find an original way into such a roman a clef.
Theo Stockman plays Rabe’s stand-in, Danny, who lives with his father Pop (Gordon Clapp), a German war refugee with brutal memories and Old World values he had difficulty imparting to his 20-ish son.
Danny works in a nearby factory and parties with buddies Terry (Jonny Orsini), the bewildered one, and Jake (Dennis Staroselsky), the tough one.
To their dismay, Danny has been pursuing Karen (Clair van der Boom), a college girl from the nicer side of the tracks whose striver-class airs make her an object of Terry and Jake’s scorn. They hate rich people.
For Danny, however, the sexually aggressive Karen offers intellectual as well as physical escape, and the idea terrifies him. In a nice counterbalance to Karen, we also meet Terry’s lively ex-girlfriend Shirley (Erin Darke), whose own liberation comes from turning tricks on the other side of town.
Jo Bonney, a director who can throw grenades of her own, has staged an oddly flaccid production. There are fine period clothes from Theresa Squire and the authentic, which is to say muted, lighting by Lap Chi Chu makes Neil Patel’s rundown set look even more neglected.
Through May 26 at the Acorn Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: *1/2
At the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, there’s a terrific production by hot director Sam Gold of Will Eno’s offbeat “The Realistic Joneses,” starring Parker Posey and Glenn Fitzgerald as neighbors from hell.
They play Pony and John Jones, vaguely sinister new neighbors of stolid Jennifer and Bob Jones (the equally fine Johanna Day and Tracy Letts).
Set in what could be the next burg over from Rabe’s factory town, “The Realistic Joneses” reminded me of a black satire by Thomas Berger (“Neighbors”), wherein the placid if benumbed worlds of one couple is turned inside-out by the arrival of another who might as well have dropped in from Mars.
Indie film darling Posey and Fitzgerald are fabulous Martians, bizarre in ways you can’t quite pin down.
It’s impossible to know whether they’re just different or threateningly predatory. John introduces himself as an astronaut, adding “But I use the term loosely.” Pony tells him about an afternoon spent letting boys flick lit matches at her.
There are foreboding yet touchingly oblique conversations about illness between actor-turned-actor/playwright Letts (“August: Osage County”) and Day, along with dead-end flirtations among the four of them. Eno is a surrealist who says he’s “experimenting” with naturalism, but these folks speak in non-sequiturs and non-sense. It’s fun, if somewhat wearing, at under two hours.
Through May 12 at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven. Information: +1-203-432-1234; http://www.yalerep.org. Rating: **1/2
What the Stars Mean: **** Do Not Miss *** Excellent ** Good * So-So (No stars) Avoid
(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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