Photo by Matt Richter
Playwright Sam Shepard has said that “The Late Henry Moss,” his gritty, grueling 2001 drama now receiving its Los Angeles premiere, is semiautobiographical, a fictionalized treatment of his own relationship with his brother. It’s a tale of a violent, hard-drinking, bullying father and the legacy of guilt, fear, and resentment he has left to his two sons, framed like a mystery story with a series of flashbacks to reveal the truth behind murky, contested facts.
Henry Moss (Gary Werntz) is dead in his isolated cabin in New Mexico, and his long-absent son Earl (Ronnie Marmo), summoned by Henry’s Mexican neighbor Esteban (Mark Adair-Rios), has returned. After notifying his younger brother, Ray (Michael Blum), Earl has locked himself up alone with the corpse. When Ray arrives from California, it’s clear there’s bad blood between the brothers. There are hints of an explosive family crisis and Earl’s fearful flight from the conflict, a flight Earl denies.
Ray is not satisfied with Earl’s account of Henry’s death. According to Earl, Henry had received a large sum of money, taken up with a Mexican sexpot he met in jail named Conchalla (Ivet Corvea), and ordered a taxi from Albuquerque to take them fishing. It was at this point that Esteban got worried for Henry and telephoned Earl. But before Earl could arrive, Henry was dead. Ray’s suspicions are not allayed, and he tracks down and questions the taxi driver (Joe Dalo, in a masterly comic performance) who drove Henry and Conchalla on their fishing trip. We, along with Ray, must try to assemble the fragmentary facts into a coherent narrative.
Werntz delivers a powerhouse performance as Henry, irrational, multifaceted, drunken, and guilt-ridden. Marmo’s Earl is a brooding presence, hiding too many secrets, from himself as well as Ray, who Blum makes a cocky, paranoid bully hell-bent on escaping the dominance of his once-admired older brother. As Esteban, Adair-Rios is quirkily eccentric, with the instincts of a mother hen and a passion for cooking. Dalo’s mild-mannered taxi driver is buffaloed at finding himself insulted and ordered around by his fares, while Corvea, handed a character more metaphorical than real, grounds Conchalla persuasively.
Director David Fofi deftly captures the myriad nuances and the simmering violence that hover beneath the surface, and designer Joel Daavid created the shabby, down-at-heel cabin and its madly mismatched furniture.
Presented by 68 Cent Crew Theatre Company at Theatre 68, 5419 West Sunset Blvd., L.A. June 30–Aug. 4. Fri. and Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (323) 960-5068 or http://plays411.com.