Love, Peace, and Robbery
By Liam Heylin
Produced by Keegan Theatre’s New Island Project
Directed by Kerry Waters Lucas
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
Crafted devotedly in truth and detail, Love, Peace and Robbery is theater stripped to its essence: fine actors showing the heartbreaking consequentiality of everyday acts. Darren (Matthew Keenan) and Gary (Eric Lucas) are low-level thugs, of a type immediately recognizable. They are too dim to be successful criminals and too impatient to be honest men, and so they are the only things they can be: career unsuccessful criminals.
As the play opens they have just been released from a Cork County prison, and are reminiscing – not fondly – about their lives of criminal attempts. Gary, who is thirty-eight, has a ten o’clock curfew, which is earlier than his 15-year-old son’s (Bruce Raucher). Darren, 22, has an eight o’clock curfew, which is earlier than his dog’s (Bruce Rauscher). Men like Gary and Darren live their lives in predictable cycles – get out of jail, get high, imagine themselves to be Clyde Barrow, do something stupid, go back to jail – and so it is the impact that they have on those around them that creates the story. For Gary, the drama is in his attempt to hold onto his bewildered son and long-suffering wife (Rauscher); for Darren it is an attempt to come to resolution with a girlfriend who has fled to New Jersey (we see her only as the imagined voice on the other end of a telephone) but who loves him still.
And, of course, to come to resolution with his dog. After smoking what must have been the best dope in human history, Darren learns in unmistakable fashion what a dog – and really, any honest creature – yearns for from his beloved: to hear his footsteps coming up the walk every day, and an occasional belly rub. Indeed, Darren discovers a truism: a man can disappoint his boss, his friends and his family, but he does not know true failure until he disappoints his dog.
Of course, Darren and Gary are career unsuccessful criminals, and so eventually they must do an unsuccessful crime. They do not wish to, but it is in their nature, and after a few days of low-income tedium their blood cries out for it. (“It’s my fault,” Darren cries out over the phone to his transoceanic ex-girlfriend, over and over again, a dozen times or more. You know he doesn’t want to believe it, but the words spurt out of his mouth, like blood spraying from a severed artery). They are caught, of course, and cross-examined by a ruthless detective (Rauscher; in the play he is called a guard). The guard has enough evidence to convict one of them, and does, but it is here that this good story holds out enough hope to wash the whole sordid proceedings: one of our career unsuccessful criminals is capable of honor, and the other is capable of redemption.
The alert reader may have by this point noticed that Bruce Rauscher plays more than one role. The extraordinary virtuosity shown by Rauscher, who is one of the Washington stage’s undersung treasures, is the only showy thing in this production. That is not to say that Rauscher himself, or his transitions, are showy. Quite the contrary: Rauscher establishes each of his characters with a minimum of fuss, and often with a single gesture – the way he holds his legs, say, or a baleful glance at Gary when Gary isn’t looking. Dog or detective, woman or man-child, every characterization Rauscher does is marked by authenticity. Rauscher gets out of the way of the story with such speed and skill that you will not appreciate the magnitude of his accomplishment until afterward, on the way home.
Keenan and Lucas are similarly authentic, and their characters are layered and persuasive. Darren is an unpleasant man simmering in rage, and Keenan – a Dublin actor working in residence at Keegan this year – gives him the full rainbow of emotions which make up that rage: fear, sorrow, regret, self-loathing. As for Lucas, he is old-shoe comfortable as Gary, a man who has ruefully accepted his failures as a human being. A scene in which his wife bombards him with accusations and vituperation ends with both of them dissolving in laughter, as must hundreds of thousands of such scenes between rapscallions and the people who love them so dissolve. Only actors who have the easy skill of Lucas and Rauscher can pull it off, though.
So, all hail Rauscher, Keenan, Lucas, Director Kerry Waters Lucas, who found the play’s true heart, and especially playwright Liam Heylin, a veteran crime-beat reporter who has apparently scratched off the squalid surface of the stories he chronicles, and has found human beings beneath.
Running Time: 1:20, with no intermission.
When: Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m., until December 21.
Where: Theatre on the Run, 3700 South Four Mile Run Drive, Arlington, VA.
Tickets: $25 ($20 seniors and students). E-mail [email protected] or call 703.892.0202, extension 2.