The Theatreguide.London Review
The Late Henry Moss
Almeida Theatre 2006
The play is set in the American Southwest. The main characters are two brothers who haven't seen each other in years, and what brings them together is their dead father.
Every scene is charged with the electricity of unspoken histories and subtexts. It is frequently obscene and even more frequently hilarious.
It is, in short, a Sam Shepard play.
First seen in San Francisco in 2000 and getting its European premiere now, the play hits most of the territory Shepard has staked out as his own - the anything-is-possible emptiness of the American West, the inescapability of the emotional baggage of the past, the struggle to become or remain fully alive, and the absurdly obscene farce of being human.
If it is not quite top-level Shepard, it is still engrossing, entertaining, puzzling and ultimately inspiring in ways no other contemporary writer can manage.
The two brothers are Earl and Ray, brought to The-Middle-Of-Nowhere, New Mexico by the death of their long-estranged father Henry (seen in several flashbacks).
The brothers have a lot of unresolved emotional issues with each other and with their father, and Ray is convinced that Earl, who got there first, is keeping something from him, so he hunts out and questions some of the last people to see Henry alive.
It turns out that Earl is hiding something, and that it is both more innocent and more meaning-charged than Ray suspects, and the play tells us, as other Shepard plays have, that the past has to be embraced with all its darkness or else a man can die long before his body lies down.
Brendan Coyle, Andrew Lincoln and Trevor Cooper charge the play with the requisite enigmatic energy as the brothers and father, while Simon Cregar, Flaminia Cinque and especially Jason Watkins take turns stealing the show in comic turns as, respectively, a Mexican neighbour, Henry's last girlfriend and a hapless taxicab driver.
Michael Attenborough's direction captures the play's jumble of emotions and helps create a reality so strong that this is the rare case of a short play (barely two hours, including interval) you wish were longer, so you could spend more time with these characters.
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