Occasionally, a common upbringing can override political differences (even with your Randian frat-dude friend) — it does happen. This hope, though, of having lasting friendships with people on the other side of the aisle, is interred but thought-provokingly mourned in Craig Wright’s masterful new play, Lady. A credit to Wright, the intricate narrative’s not resigned to self-congratulation or Right-bashing, and its three childhood friends on a hunting trip aren’t figureheads for unilateralism. They’re full-fledged people, flawed and watchable, confronting us with an idea that’s particularly appropriate right now: political ideology doesn’t necessarily dictate social merit.
Stoner softy Kenny (Michael Shannon), congressman and Bush apologist Graham (David Wilson Barnes) and angry intellectual Dyson (Paul Sparks), once known as the Sultans (a reference to their passion for Dire Straits), reunite for a hunting trip. After an awkward playing of ‘The Sultans of Swing’ over a dark stage, things pick up, as the actors engage in smart but dude-ish banter and intimate competition, convincingly positioning their audience as a silent and voyeuristic fourth party on the hunt.
Full use of the space at Barrow Street helps to create that sense of immediacy and involvement with the action onstage: director Dexter Bullard places the audience in the middle of the hunting ground, in the line of fire. Using nothing fancier than lights and a soundtrack, set designer John McDermott credibly places a huge SUV on the stage for Kenny to get high in while subjecting his friends to a two-hour loop of Hannah Montana’s greatest hits (simultaneously earning laughs and placing his audience in the sociopolitical here and now).
As Kenny, Shannon deftly executes the soft-mouthed pothead and prognosticating village idiot, down to his tedious avoidance of conversation of any consequence and his glass-eyed observation of how truly alone they all are. This observation, incidentally, is the only wincingly untrue note of Wright’s otherwise believable script. Paul Sparks, as furious lefty Dyson, gets so worked up that he steps on more than a few of Shannon’s lines, cutting into Kenny in a way that is true to their relationship but frustrating to watch. He gives great eye-rolling deliveries, though, and he presents a thought-provoking juxtaposition of public responsibility and private repugnance. Wilson Barnes is well suited to the role of everyman politician: he’s handsome and likable and it’s fascinating to watch him fall apart.
The three actors engage their audience for the duration of the 90-minute one-act, slinging smart, quick dialogue and offering up big ideas in a way that (almost) never gets preachy. Lady is an astute and engaging look at the complex interrelation of the public and private self that manages to be heartfelt and, amazingly, very funny