It’s a question that many of us struggle with at one point or another in our lives: Which would you rather be, the one who leaves or the one who is left behind?
That’s the thorny issue explored in a trio of short plays called "3 For The Road" that opened Friday night at the Splinter Group’s home in the Marian Center.
Playwright Tony DiMurro, based in New York, is a friend of Jim Farrell, the artistic director at Splinter, and Farrell wanted to mount the premiere of these plays. It’s a dramatic evening of theater, with two of the three plays featuring an arc that is unique and fascinating.
The first playlet has two characters: Chet, a dirty grave digger (Farrell) and CJ, his son who comes out of an adjoining grave (Joe Picchetti). Farrell is torn apart by his separation from his son and tells his story entirely in the terms of baseball.
He creates a detailed portrait of his son, the shortstop, who emerges from his grave, saddened at being left alone after his father left. And the uncertainty of why a man would leave is a difficult, if not impossible, question to answer, although Chet gives it a try.
"She tried to ... to ... to take things out of me that I didn’t have," he says. "That weren’t there! I had nothing."
Chet never once looks at his son during the entire play, and that distance is a boundary that neither man can cross, much less recognize.
Farrell and Picchetti are a formidable father and son. Farrell has a deep well of emotional trauma he tries to reign in, with little success. Picchetti is careful and restrained, unwilling to force himself back into his father’s life.
The second play has two men on a train, Trip (Robert W.C. Kennedy) and Larry (Philip Sletteland). Trip is a motor-mouth who intrudes on the solitude of Larry and his newspaper. Trip’s story leaks out slowly, as if just by telling it he has to face things he would rather not.
Four years ago, he went out for a pack of cigarettes and a gallon of milk and never went back.
Larry wonders why, and Trip admits he doesn’t know.
"I have no words to describe what happened," he says. "I’m trying ... I’m trying to find my story. I think that’s why I even started talking to you. I mean I’ve always had this hunger in me. Deep inside. I’ve tried to fill it, kill it and bury it, but I could never escape it. Never step out of it. You know?"
At the end, Kennedy gets off the train to go home finally, but Larry skips his stop, taking off for something, even though he has no idea what it may be. Just something.
Kennedy and Sletteland are brilliant together, capturing the mutual angst each one has but at totally different points in their lives. One doesn’t have any answers but gives up on the question; the other is ready to ask the question and doesn’t particularly care about the answers.
When we get to DiMurro’s third play, I got the feeling that he had run out of creative energy and settled for the simplicity of a soap opera. While his other two plays showed a unique eagerness to dive deep into turmoil, the third one seemed to be casually ripped from a Telenova episode, only in English instead of Spanish.
This one concerns Eddie (Robert Hirschi) and his wife, Pat (Diane Lane). Eddie left Pat alone with their son, but has returned. Pat is not particularly interested in having him back. In fact, she is beyond angry at having been left, alone, poorer, unable to deal with the demands of everyday life.
Eddie is uncertain why he left, but also gives it his best shot with a line that might have come out of the latest romance novel.
"But I had to do it," he said. "I had to do it to understand what it means to be a man."
That’s a line that has found its way into everything from bad novels, bad songs and bad movies. It is indicative of the shallowness of the third play.
Jake Brockman's direction shows a discipline and creativity, but even his talents can't lift the dog of the third play out of the doghouse.
DiMurro shows some promise even though he relies on too many long winded speeches to make his characters seem like real people. Nobody I know talks in soliloquy.
"3 for the Road" runs through Feb. 22 and information on showtimes and tickets is available here.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
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