What to make of a play that is written in a slickly compelling manner (let’s put assessments of good or bad aside for the moment), wholly professionally (you may not like being there, but your attention is “demanded”); a play that presents you with a central character who is completely unsympathetic; yet that manages at length to bring him “into the light” to become sympathetic (not an easy trick, it only happens by making him interestingly volatile enough to surprise you when he explodes toward nobility); and that plants conspicuous plot seeds to presage violence, or at least a catharsis of violence narrowly minimized or averted by something more powerful, such that you worry about the guy, the people he means to protect; and that takes matters to the very precipice; a play that then delivers…a soft, hopeful ending in which none of what is structurally, clearly promised is delivered—as if cut short at a penultimate scene rather than climaxing in an inevitable, ultimate showdown between good and evil?
In Almost Home, , set in 1965, alcoholic, intemperate, working class father and WWII veteran Harry Barnett (Joe Lisi) and his wife Grace (Karen Ziemba) await the return of their son Johnny (Jonny Orsini) from his tour of duty in Vietnam. But an old debt Harry owes to a crooked cop, Nick Pappas (James McCaffrey), threatens his son’s civilian future. (Also in the mix, though less directly on the plot line, is Luisa Jones [Brenda Pressley], a neighbor and Johnny’s former teacher.)
Almost Home, and I have no inside track to make this assertion with impunity, but I’m hard pressed to imagine another scenario, reeks of an enterprise in which at the last minute, a force or forces on the creative team got scared of the machinery set in motion by the play; got scared by the obviousness of its Greek tragedy elements; got scared of an operatic ending already written—and lopped off the actual denouement.
Such theatrical pullbacks are not without precedent: Terrence McNally pulled back on ending The Lisbon Traviata with a murder, when the play made its transfer to an open-ended run; but the murder was literally the final action of the play; and the difference, though profound for some, was the difference between the enraged character stopping himself on the very brink of plunging home a blade and killing the lover leaving him—with the final image that of the character bereft and alone—and completing the action, such that his partner dies in his arms. Either way, the play completes.
But Almost Home lives up to its title in a most unfortunate way. (I’ll concede this much about Almost Home by way of playing devil’s advocate; there’s a final, long-coming moment of communion between father and son in what is now the last scene; but if Anderson means that to be the climax, the play is cripplingly mis-structured, presenting us an evening of red herrings.)
Per earlier, I put aside notions of good or bad because I can’t tell. As I say, it’s all highly professional: the direction (Michael Parva), the writing, the acting…but because it doesn’t, ultimately, seem to have the courage of its convictions, it resists true assessment as surely as it resists being the thing it so clearly means to be.
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