Los Angeles Theatre Review The Late Henry Moss By CINESNATCH
Sam Shepard is often concerned with digging up the past and getting real dirty with father/son relationships. During the Fringe Festival this year, I caught the production of Fool for Love. Two lovers must duke it out while two siblings must make amends with their father. The 68 Cent Theatre dives into similar territory as brothers contend with their freshly deceased parent, The Late Henry Moss. First staged in 2000 at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco, Shepard hoped it would be the final word on his oft-visited trope. Twelve yeasr later, Ronnie Marmo is restaging the memory play with Michael Blum (who has an earnest Mark Walhberg vocal quality) as his costar and David Fofi directing. Moss is an alcoholic whose three-day old corpse becomes a catalyst for younger brother Ray (Blum) to investigate the circumstances of his father’s passing. As the play explores the tentacles of history, something doesn’t smell right and it isn’t just the decaying Moss. Through a variety of ancillary characters, he pieces together events, much to his older brother Earl’s (Marmo) dismay.
Both of the leads have some nice moments as the brothers, including a well-choreographed fight scene. The cast is rich with supporting performances led by the gravely-voiced Gary Werntz (who looks like he could be related to Shepard), dressed in dirty jeans, who plays the burly, towering title character. He has a serious hair across his ass and, as he informs everyone at any given moment of this fact, we can smell the fumes of his liquor-stained breath. Joe Dalo brings a gumpy Jim Nabors’ spin to his role. He’s adorable and heart-breaking as the Taxi Driver, as well as a blessed physical comedian; watching his facial gestures process the nuances of consuming a whole jalapeno was pure joy. After trying to ingratiate himself unsuccessfully to Ray, he throws in a few pop shots that he carries out with a grand innocence. Ivet Corvea as Moss’ girlfriend Conchalla Lupina is appropriately a fire waiting to be put out. As Moss’ caring neighbor Estéban, Mark Adair Rios is solid.
There are some elegant interludes between acts involving an intimate dance between Moss and his girlfriend, where we see brief glimpses of a man when he was literally and figuratively alive. As well, Fofi presses the pause button in the best moment of the play, allowing the image to soak in of past meeting present. The director also adds some comical touches with Tweedle Dee and Dum coroners, dressed in shades, surgical masks, and lavender shirts. Joel Daavid’s southwestern adobe-styled set also exhibits a medieval flare with the exposed brick, lovely hanging wooden beams, and claw-foot tub (which later serves as a companion death bed), accentuated by Matt Richter’s lighting design, including a distinctive dark neon blue presence ruminating outside Moss’ home. Shepard doesn’t care to tell upbeat stories. He fleshes out parts of his life and isn’t too concerned with portraying reality or what results. Peppered with clever lines here and there, Moss reflects this desired aimlessness and doesn’t offer any tiding endings.
The Late Henry Moss plays through July 28 at the 68 Cent Theatre.