- By Neil LaBute
- Directed by Ed Herendeen
- Produced by the Contemporary American Theater Festival
- Reviewed by Tim Treanor
Edward Carr (Kurt Zische) is a Chicago businessman who has lost his wife. Wrecks is Carr’s preparation for the eulogy he will utter for his beloved Mary Jo, who rests in the featureless wooden casket behind him.
A man cannot limn the life of his long-time wife without telling us something of himself as well. Ed Carr is of a type well known in Chicago: bluff, open, good-natured, quick to anger, quick to forgive, grounded in plain language, honest to the last drop and (this is important) determined beyond all reason. He stands before us as any such man might, sweating rage and grief, moist cigarette behind his ear, as he memorializes the woman who made his life possible,
Within this compulsive and convulsive narrative, there are little bits of a story line: how Ed met his (much older) wife; her first marriage to Ed’s Swedish boss; Ed’s own history as an orphan and foster child; how the two of them built a business renting classic cars. At first all this appears merely to be anecdote but eventually it leads to an astounding and unsettling conclusion.
Neil LaBute’s unique gift is his ability to make us stare directly into the ugliness which underlies our assumptions and sullies our lives. But Wrecks is a love story, and the closer we look at the lives of Ed and Mary Jo Carr, the more unsullied they appear to be. Ed Carr is not a loveable man – LaBute steadfastly gives him the pedestrian language of the Chicago sreets, and Zischke makes sure that Ed’s scars are too big to hide – but his majestic love for Mary Jo makes him soar in spite of himself. That love, expressed without a single line of metaphor or poetic language, is nonetheless so sublime that when he reaches the bizarre climax of his story, one which might otherwise fill us with revulsion, we are moved to pity, and to satisfaction.
Having said that, I am obliged to note that there are some parts of LaBute’s narrative that make no discernable sense. Ed appears to be addressing us while at the same time speaking of a crowd of mourners in another room. I suppose we could be hearing Ed’s spiritual self while his physical self is elsewhere, but the play is otherwise so relentlessly realistic that such an interpretation seems jarringly out of place. It is unclear (and unimportant) whether Ed and Mary Jo slept with each other before they were married; Ed seems to say contradictory things on the subject. And Ed worries about whether his children and stepchildren will fight over the business, which he earlier said he had sold to Avis. There may be an explanation for all this, but as Chicago legend Richard Daley (the first) correctly advised: never apologize, never explain.
These are small things, easily corrected in the editing process. LaBute has clearly accomplished his larger objective: to show love as a force triumphant against all reason, as compelled as a salmon swimming upstream, finding the darkest creeks and eddys, bringing light.
- Running time: 60 minutes
- Tickets: Contemporary American Theater Festival
- Where: Shepherds University, Shepherdstown, WV