Inner-city decay as a metaphor for the breakdown of humanity or vice-versa has long been a theatre staple and it is something of a feat nowadays to achieve the desired effect. Adam Rapp’s new play rises to the challenge and, although he does not quite get away with it, he does leave an impression.
The inhabitants of a tenement block chase their dreams or confront their nightmares in Gompers, an American town decaying after the closure of the steel mill. Someone spots a ‘blue Jesus’ walking on the river (a red herring really) and expectations rise that everyone’s luck might be changing for the better. Through a series of encounters we gradually learn the outcome.
The ten performers of this energetic ensemble work hard for the play and for each other, although acting styles (and accents) wildly differ. In the conniving yet magnetic tenement super Dent, Noah Lee Margetts creates a vital focal point for the play, while Molly, the youthful mother-to-be of his child, Lisa Diveney balances determination with precociousness.
Nick Oshikanlu gives Molly’s suitor unexpected depth, Julian Stolzenberg imbues cross-dressing thug Shoe with real pathos, just as Ray Shell tugs our heart strings as the policeman with a soul. As the bedbound Carlos, dying of Aids and almost blind, Paul Lloyd is a compelling chorus to the proceedings.
Director Roisin McBrinn makes the most of her cast but is ultimately let down by the script’s inconsistencies. Rapp’s exchanges between the ever-shifting combinations of characters make compelling vignettes but they struggle to hold together as a play. While the crises of the characters’ shattered lives, old, middle-aged, young and unborn, are believable, the community they live in and which raised them is not.
So, a mixed bag then but a riveting production nevertheless.
Arcola, London, August 31-September 18
- Adam Rapp
- Roisin McBrinn
- Arcola Theatre
- Cast includes
- Noah Lee Margetts, Lisa Diveney, Nick Oshikanlu, Julian Stolzenberg, Ray Shell, Paul Lloyd
- Running time