Old acquaintance

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  August 22, 2007

Archie “Billy-Goat” Crisp, aided on this particular Saturday by George “Kermie” Ferguson, is lugging bales of old paper into a machine that compacts it so it can be trucked away and turned into new paper. Call it Sisyphean or call it recycling: as a career, it’s limited. But Archie has a “supper date” with the widow of the title, Margy Burke. High-school salutatorian made good, the NYU-employed stickler for good English is back in town and has called up the local boy with a once and future crush on her. Since there’s a long-ago incident of sexual violence hovering over the three characters, their reunion is a recipe for mayhem. In the play, and particularly in Robert Walsh’s galvanic production at Gloucester Stage, it’s a recipe that gets cooking awfully early, with the result that one is sated before the conclusion its black, wounded widow has presumably sought to bring about. You have to admire actors Derek Milman, Sean Meehan, and Laurie Naughton for their uncompromising commitment to this grim, frequently exploding work. Like the job they do, Milman and Meehan are dirty and sweaty and utterly unglamorous from the get-go. And Naughton, blonde and slim in her leather trenchcoat, comes among and between them like some erstwhile macho triumph turned detonating putdown.

I have long considered this play, which was last produced in Gloucester in 1989, among the prolific Horovitz’s best, along with The Indian Wants the Bronx, North Shore Fish, and Henry Lumper. It still packs a punch, and Horovitz captures the proletarian syntax, swaggering machismo, and dead-end desperation of bullish sad sack Archie and the harder, more dimwitted George. But these two working-class posturers, at least as rendered here, are almost too cretinous to take seriously. And the play’s depiction of female empowerment hovers uncomfortably between feminist and prurient. In the end, amid all the newspapers, beer cans, and flotsam and jetsam on stage, it gets hard to sort metaphor from melodrama.

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