The Delling Shore
By Sam Marks
Directed by Meredith McDonough
Review by Rachel White
Copyright © 2013 by Rachel White. All rights reserved.
Sam Marks’ compelling new play The Delling Shore premiered Friday night, opening the 37th Humana Festival of New American Plays.
The play at first appears to be another story about writers together in a cabin. What actually follows is a deceptively dark funny drama about failure, identity and desperation.
The play opens in a secluded cabin where successful writer Thomas Wright (Jim Frangione) has invited his old writer friend Frank Bay (Bruce McKenzie) and Frank’s daughter Adrianne (Catharine Combs) to stay with him and his beautiful but rather apathetic daughter Ellen (Meredith Forlenza). Frank Bay has asked Thomas to critique his new book, which Thomas has promised to read. Frank’s daughter Adrianne, also a writer, is hoping to land an apprenticeship with Thomas, whom she idolizes.
The characters in this play aren’t people you would like in life, but it is fascinating to watch them claw to get what they want. What seems to unite each of them is that they each desperately want something from Thomas. Thomas responds to these needs by gesticulating about what a writer is and mercilessly criticizing everyone around him. Thomas somehow connects the idea of being a writer to one’s ability to manipulate words and people; it’s a game to him, but it’s also his identity. Human needs and interactions are secondary to him if they are important at all.
Jim Fragione’s portrayal of Thomas’s complete absorption in the idea of being a writer is pristine. He plays him as utterly confident and charming, but with something cutting and mean underneath. I hated Thomas, but I loved hating him. I wanted to hear what he would say next. He is ruthlessly and needlessly mean, but always under the guise of being more learned. His daughter, a successful banker, wants real things: a life, a boyfriend and a father who takes an interest in her. Thomas can’t even remember what bank she works for
Frank’s esteem, on the other hand, is based entirely on his ability to be seen as a successful writer, the ideal that Thomas embodies. When Frank can’t be that, he becomes destructive, even destroying his daughter’s chance of an apprenticeship. I almost wanted to see the roles reversed. What if Frank had become successful and Thomas had not? Would they behave differently?
Adrianne, whose rage eases out slowly throughout the play, is a dynamic character whose innocence is as deep as her ambition. Combs plays her as young and eager initially, but slowly reveals her as someone who knows what she wants and will do just about anything to get it.
The characters in this play are trapped by the idea that to be a writer, or an artist, requires some kind of joyless sacrifice of friendship, ethics and humility until there’s nothing left but the ability to say, “I’m a writer.” The book Wonder Boys, which is referenced in the play, is a book about a writer who becomes obsessed with achieving another success, and so achieves nothing. The writing then becomes a joyless exercise.
By the end of the play, I was left wanting more and not quite ready for the end. What Thomas has to gain from having these people up to his cabin was not entirely clear to me. As the other characters’ motives unravel, Thomas becomes more mysterious. What is really the last straw for Thomas? Had his needs been more clearly addressed, I think the conclusion would have felt more satisfying.
Director Meredith McDonough does a great job with the pacing of this piece, keeping the drama tight but allowing the humor to come through, including during a writing game that goes sour. The dialogue is taut and flows along eerily and beautifully.
The Delling Shore
February 27 - April 7, 2013
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202