02 September 2008

When I Was a Small Child, My Dad's Dog Was Named Lady, and Then We Put Her to Sleep. That Was Also Sad.

Friday night I got to see the second preview of Lady, the new Craig Wright play now on at Rattlestick.

I say that it was the second preview not as a caveat for any "eh, it was okay" about to follow. No, not at all. I say it was the second preview because that makes what I saw all the more impressive.

Craig Wright is a damn solid playwright. (He's also a tvwright, working on "Six Feet Under," "Lost," "Brothers and Sisters," and most recently "Dirty Sexy Money," which he's the bossman of.) His Orange Flower Water, which Edge produced a couple of years ago, and The Pavillion, at Rattlestick, were both completely fantastic, and Lady is up there with his best work. I'm hard pressed to find a way it's not realism, but there's something in his writing, a tightness and energy to the language, that elevates it to something really exciting. The characters and relationships are so intense, funny and gut-wrenchingly sad. If I remember, The Pavillion was a quieter sort of sadness, but Lady is like Orange Flower Water in its almost cruelly vulnerable baring of deep, regular, every-day, heartbreaking pain.

The performances in this production are also stellar. Two of the three characters were written for the actors playing them, Michael Shannon and Paul Sparks, and they and David Wilson Barnes give knock-out performances. (I should note that Shannon and Sparks also played these roles when Lady was produced in Chicago, so though it was second preview in New York, they've had time to get to know these characters.) Fun fact: Paul Sparks was Michael Shannon's replacement in BUG off-Broadway. (Lady is also directed by BUG's director, Dexter Bullard, who is apparently some sort of genius.) I saw Paul Sparks in that play - the first thing I saw him in. He's one of the first actors whose work I got to know when I moved to New York, and... just damn. Even phoning it in he'd be brilliant, but in Lady he is absolutely at the top of his game, and that kind of performance is just staggering. I'd never seen Michael Shannon in anything other than the trailers for the BUG movie, and David Wilson Barnes... to see three performances like that it one play is ... well, if the play weren't such a hard, sad punch in the stomach, I'd say it was a treat.

But a play like this, that leaves you reeling and maybe a little nauseous, is not a treat. It's at times almost riotously funny, and I laughed a lot, but it's painful. In the absolute best way. Go see it. (You can also subscribe to Rattlestick's awesome season, previously gushed about here, for just $99.)

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