Like a tomboy on her Tuff Skins or Missouri roads on tires, director Scott Cordes is hard on sets. By the bang-up climax of On an Average Day — playwright John Kolvenbach's drama of long-estranged brothers having it out in their childhood home — the dilapidated kitchen has been crashed through, shot up and so soundly demolished in some places, you might find it hard to believe that Cordes' impressive production isn't a one-night-only affair. (It runs one more weekend at the new Living Room at the Pearl, an exciting addition to the Crossroads.)
The show is a slow-burn face-off, more sharply acted than it is written. Kolvenbach's script holds too many secrets too long, and then delivers them in out-of-nowhere eruptions that emphasize their implausibility. But I smiled at the acting even as I groaned over the writing. I might not have bought the specifics of how or why these brothers wind up having a go at each other in this kitchen, but the go itself is a mighty piece of work.
Rusty Sneary and Matt Weiss play brothers Jack and Robert. There's something thrilling about the way their roughhousing barrels through that kitchen, designed by Jon Cupit and Marlin Deen. It's so un-stagey, its smashing so liberated, that it should please anyone who ever inspired a mother to wail, "This is why we can't have nice things!"
Early on, anxious brother Robert (Weiss), who seems to be squatting in their old abandoned house, chatters on — about guilt and innocence and a court case — with Jack (Sneary), the apparently more collected brother who has just turned up. Often hinting at some dark crime, Robert rants, a desperate wheeze in his voice. We know he's screwed up because one of his first acts onstage is tuning an old radio to Michael Savage.
Weiss sweats and storms, balancing a nebbishy paranoia with the joy of giving voice, at last, to suffering. He touches us even when his character seems impossible. While Robert holds forth, Jack downs Old Milwaukees and prods him with noncommittal questions and remarks. Sneary's wary, astute delivery of these interjections suggests that his Jack has a history in therapy. Remarkably, he makes these flat responses matter as much as Weiss' strange flights.
Even before the post-intermission ass-kicking, Cupit and Deen's set is a convincing wasteland heaped with beer cans and rotted through with junkyard accuracy.
The can-do spirit of the Crossroads has made this independent production an event. Founded by Sneary and Shawnna Journagan, the Living Room is makeshift but more than functional. They've surrounded the stage with old couches and easy chairs but haven't compromised on the technical aspects of the production. Moose Kimball's lights enrich the sudden moments of revelation, and David Kiehl, as always, evokes a sense of place through sound design. The low hum of talk radio nags at our nerves in the opening scenes; forget rainstorms and train whistles — is there any sound more lonesome than AM bile turned on for company?
Serious as the show is, the Living Room has the homey feel that its name suggests. Journagan and Sneary's pre- and post-show speeches sound like the words of thankful hosts rather than theater owners. Local musicians perform during intermission. And when the night is over, the live-for-art founders head upstairs to their apartment. Nice of them to have us over — especially since Cordes and company trash the joint every night.