A Left Hand Adventure
Review by Sean McQuaid
"A Left Hand Adventure" (a trio of one-act plays staged by Left Hand Theatre at the Arts Guild on October 18-21) is a small wonder: Outside of Me, Sleep Tight and Cowboy Mouth all employ small casts, minimal sets and modest production values to craft compelling short stories of people at odds with fundamental truths, with each other, and with themselves.
Outside of Me, written by Left Hand founder Jonathan C. Stewart and directed by Joseph A. Boyd, chronicles a soul torn between reincarnation and eternal peace. The play's irreverent take on the afterlife covers the same thematic ground Stewart worked in Nothing Like the Sun, but does so a bit more deftly and a bit less didactically, with a welcome sense of fun (though as in NLTS, there are some all-too-earnest moments). Miranda Tremere, however, seems ill-cast as the play's protagonist. In addition to a girlish performance style that sometimes undermines her character's credibility, Tremere's quick-and-quiet enunciation blurs her lines significantly-a dangerous tendency in a play that leans heavily on speechmaking. This combines with slow scene changes and repetitive music to make Outside of Me feel longer than it actually is.
The new one-man show Sleep Tight, written by Boyd and co-directed by Tremere and Todd MacLean, boasts a tighter script and a stronger performance: Boyd himself plays Adam, an embittered orphan coming to grips with the violent death of his parents. It's a raw, visceral show full of punch-in-the-gut emotional impact. This no-holds-barred approach is best exploited in Boyd's acting (an impressively persuasive portrait of conviction and intensity), but it goes astray at times in the script itself. Oft-crude rhetorical excess (such as a repeated survey of Adam's bodily orifices) comes off sounding as implausible and self-indulgent as it does harsh, and a less-is-more approach would serve certain lines well (Adam's references to stomach acid could work both literally and metaphorically, for instance, without being mired in a litany of bodily by products).
Boyd's script also tries a bit too hard to fill in the blanks for the audience at times, as in the passage where Adam interprets a dream that any thoughtful observer has already figured out, or the closing sequence where Adam tries to attach a moral and a mission of sorts to his story. These are isolated incidents in an otherwise strong script.
Rounding out the evening is a Boyd-directed version of Cowboy Mouth, the surreally autobiographical Sam Shepard show about a fanatic named Cavale (Tremere) who kidnaps a family man called Slim (MacLean) at gunpoint and tries to remake him into a musical saviour, "a rock-and roll Jesus with a cowboy mouth." Despite the criminal context and their mutually abusive behaviour, Cavale and Slim fall in love with each other while holed up in their squalid hotel room (a thinly veiled re-imagining of Shepard's infamous affair with Patti Smith, with whom he co-wrote the play). The "happy" couple's masochistic fantasy life is interrupted and ultimately subverted by the Lobster Man (Boyd), a seafood delivery man who first appears as a literal lobster-man but later morphs into the superstar of Cavale's dreams, taking Slim's place (shades of Harold Pinter).
It's weird material, ranging from laugh-out-loud funny to quietly disturbing, and Boyd's production does it justice. MacLean manages to combine predatory intensity and childish vulnerability in a very engaging performance, while Tremere is surprisingly, effectively creepy as Slim's mad seducer (Shepard's more compact and natural lines of dialogue play to Tremere's vocal strengths). Boyd never completely comes out of his shell in a somewhat understated turn as the Lobster Man, but his direction is sturdy; in particular, he and the rest of the cast deserve kudos for the ease with which they navigate the claustrophobic clutter of their set-one of many nice little touches in an evening of small wonders.