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« Postcards from the Mess: Sarah Mosk Victory Gardens' Death and the Maiden Tells a Strong and Unsettling Story »

Theater Wed Jun 25 2014

The Late Henry Moss at The Artistic Home: Sam Shepard's Lyrical, Brutal Look at Death and Dying

GB-HenryMoss-RayEarl.jpg
Tim Musachio and David Vogel. Photo by Tim Knight.

Sam Shepard is known for his in-your-face, verbally and physically violent brawls between brothers or between fathers and sons. His plays like True West, Curse of the Starving Class and Buried Child helped Steppenwolf create its reputation for confrontational theater. He also influenced playwrights like Martin McDonagh, whose 1997 play Lonesome West pits brother against brother in a Shepardesque (and very Irish) way.

The Artistic Home takes up the fourth Shepard play in that lineage, The Late Henry Moss, and gives it a rousing 2.5 hour production in its storefront space on Grand Avenue. Despite opening night lighting glitches, the production clearly shows the acting chops of this ensemble.

As the play opens, Henry Moss (Frank Nall), although already dead, dances to "Besame Mucho" with his lover, Conchalla (the sexy and charismatic Yadira Correa). Then he takes on the corpse position, completely covered by a blanket on a cot in a rundown cabin in the New Mexico desert near Bernalillo. His older son, Earl (David Vogel), sits on a chair at his side. Earl has arrived from New York, summoned by neighbor Esteban (Arvin Jalandoon), who thought Henry was "in trouble." Soon his younger brother Ray (Tim Musachio) arrives from California and the fraternal fun begins.

Henry was dead when Earl arrived and he is not ready to tell anyone or do anything about it, even though, as Ray says, "I think he's starting to stink." Henry has almost no possessions for the brothers to fight over, but they do anyway. A box of cheap tools. Not much in the fridge. A bottle of tequila. But there is one prize: a photo album full of memories. The brothers begin to argue immediately, about events of the past and the present.

Esteban arrives carrying hot soup for Henry. Despite Earl's protests, Ray forces Esteban to look at Henry's dead, not sleeping, body. Later funeral attendants come in with a body bag to take the corpse away.

Ray wants to find out more about how his father died and questions Esteban about the events of the last night, after Henry received his monthly veterans' check. ("It was blood money from killing Japs... I dropped bombs on total strangers...")

Esteban remembers that a taxi driver picked up Henry and Conchalla to take them fishing. Ray gets the driver to come out from Albuquerque, thinking he will get a fare. The taxi driver (Julian Hester) is happy to partake of Henry's bottle, but Ray is determined to learn about that evening with Henry. The driver reenacts the events and is joined in the dreamlike activity by Henry and Conchalla. The trio arrives home after fishing with one tiny dead fish. Conchalla disrobes and takes a bath, proclaiming that she will "bring the fish back to life between my thighs." (The bath scene clearly delighted the male audience member seated next to the tub).

In act two, Earl has a hangover and Ray returns carrying bags of groceries. He's decided he's going to stay. They relive their childhood, including their father beating their mother. Ray hoped Earl would stand up to his father, but he just stood by.

Henry remembers: "Your mother threw me out. She locked me out of the house.... I saw the blood and thought I killed her, but it was me that I killed.... I got in the car and just drove, without a map."

To Earl: "You were there the whole time and you could've stopped me."

Earl replies, "I couldn't. I was scared, I was just too scared." Father and son embrace.

In the final scene, Earl is sitting next to Henry's corpse. Ray says, quietly, "You remember me. I was never one to live in the past. That was never my deal." Earl responds, "Yeah, yeah, right. I remember."

Kaiser Ahmed's direction effectively moves the story from dream to reality and back again and keeps his talented cast in rhythm with the story. Nall is excellent as the very-much-alive Henry. I remember Nall vividly for his Jeff-nominated performance as the cultured and brutal SS captain in the 1999 Famous Door Theatre production of Ghetto. Correa is an exciting and dynamic Conchalla and Hester is quirky and hyperkinetic as the taxi driver. Both Vogel and Musachio bring realism to the constant sibling warfare and Jalandoon's Esteban is believable as the friendly, nervous neighbor.

The set is a nondesign design by Jacob Bray, who has created a believably grungy interior for the deceased bachelor in the desert. Thomas Dixon's musical backgrounds and dance interludes support the story line well. Because of the lightboard problem, opening night was illuminated only by overhead lights, so Scott Pilsbury's lighting design doesn't get a review.

This is not Shepard's best play, but it's an interesting one and gets an excellent production here. But The Late Henry Moss deserves a caveat. It's not for the faint of heart. There are moments when you might wish you had stayed home to read a book. But as a theatrical experience, it's pure Chicago.

The Artistic Home presents The Late Henry Moss through August 3 at 1376 W. Grand Ave. Performance times vary Thursday through Sunday (no show on July 4). Tickets are $28-32 and can be bought online or by calling 866-811-4111. For more information, see www.theartistichome.org or call 312-243-3963.

 

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Film Wed Oct 08 2014

Chicago International Film Festival's Mimi Plauché Talks About CIFF's 50th Anniversary & This Year's Films

By Steve Prokopy

Steve talks with CIFF Programming Director Mimi Plauché about the festival's anniversary, special programming, and her favorites from this year's lineup.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Oct 24 2014

Dear White People, Ouija, Birdman, Listen Up Philip, John Wick, Stonehearst Asylum & 23 Blast

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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Events

Fri Oct 31 2014
Nocturna All Hallow's Eve Ball @ Metro

Fri Oct 31 2014
Halloween Party @ Flats Studio

Fri Oct 31 2014
Boneshaker @ Redmoon Theater

Fri Oct 31 2014
Vocalo Thriller Dance Party

Fri Oct 31 2014
Moonlight Manor @ Moonlight Studios

Fri Oct 31 2014
Sing-A-Long Chicago @ Auditorium

Fri Oct 31 2014
The Trip to Italy @ Film Center

Sat Nov 1 2014
Chicago Ukulele Cabaret @ Silvie's

Sat Nov 1 2014
Dan Harmon & Harmontown @ Music Box

Sun Nov 2 2014
Central Manufacturing District Walking Tour

Sun Nov 2 2014
Closing Reception: Soul Kitchen @ Kitchen Space

Wed Nov 5 2014
Sound Opinions: The Beatles vs. The Stones @ Old Town School of Folk Music

Thu Nov 6 2014
SAIC Visiting Artists Program: Lewis Hyde


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