The Unexceptionally-Laid Schemes o’ Mice and Men

In the fields surrounding Meadowbrook, a soon-to-be shuttered mental institution, there is a bounty of discarded stainless steel furniture. While some might see these pieces as junk, Tim (Robert Homeyer) sees them as a once in a lifetime opportunity. To him, the Meadowbrook furniture is the kind of trendy antique Manhattan dwellers will plop down a few thousand dollars for the pleasure of owning. In order to secure the pieces he enlists his father (Joe Pantoliano), a Meadowbrook maintenance employee, and Robert (Peter Welch), a childhood friend and successful restaurateur. Over the course of a single evening, Tim’s scheme is pitched, accepted, dissected and ultimately dissolved by the damage each man brings to the table.

Tom Diriwachter’s Great Kills is a perfectly average play drawn alternately towards greatness and catastrophe by two very different actors. Mr. Homeyer delivers one of the most uncomfortable performances I have seen in some time. His face contorts drastically to telegraph each emotion. His hands mime out so many lines of dialogue that it feels as though he’s appearing before a deaf audience. It is a brutally literal interpretation. He takes a potentially relatable sad sack and makes him unpalatable. On the other hand, Mr. Pantoliano is fantastic. Slurring and slouching his way through the evening, Mr. Pantoliano turns his character’s sparse verbal presence into something compelling. From his first tip-toed trot across the kitchen floor to his barely enunciated climactic monologue, he remains the play’s most engaging actor, an impressive feat given that the bulk of his time on stage involves being silently parked in a recliner. Mr. Welch as Robert strikes a balance between the two, exuding an easygoing salesman’s charm that neither elevates nor soils the proceedings. For the most part, it is a tug of war between father and son.

It is a little awkward to watch a play in which thwarted ambition is a central component when any ambition the play itself may have had is constantly thwarted by its lead performer. Great Kills has all the makings of an enjoyable, old fashioned evening of theater, the kind of where each character arrives brimming with secrets that are gradually revealed by accusations and monologues. Mr. Homeyer nearly derails all of its humble aspirations. Were it not for the efforts of a well-liked character actor mumbling in a chair, it wouldn’t be worth seeing at all.

Great Kills ran through April 12th at the Theater for the New City.  155 1st Avenue  New York, NY.  1 hour 25 minutes.  No intermission.

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Ben Botwick

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