By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
Funny and gritty and deeply troubling, Bruce Graham’s courageous new play, North of the Boulevard, continues the playwright’s dramatic examination of the really tough issues of our times. In this play he tackles nothing less than Right and Wrong and the shifting ethical ground underfoot.
Act One plunges us right into a world; a beat-up auto body shop with a partially dismantled car taking up much of the floor space and a branch growing through the plaster wall (“Last tree in the neighborhood and it’s gotta come through my wall”). This is Trip’s place, a hangout for his pals (Brian McCann, Bill Rahill and Lindsay Smiling) most of whom owe him money. The four guys all share a lot of history and a lot of disgruntled desperation; their refrain is, “This used to be a nice neighborhood.” Scott Greer, as Trip, gives us a remarkably complex and nuanced portrait of a moral struggle.
They also remember when men had jobs for life (“the dock, Westinghouse, G.E.”) where it was possible for a man to earn a decent living and protect his family. The whole social fabric has come undone, ripped to shreds by racism, borderline poverty, drugs, random urban violence. When an opportunity to cash in on a grotesque development (no spoilers!) arises, we watch how years of resentment—cruel fathers, corrupt mayors-- and profound anxiety over the future—an autistic son, children never seen who live in Florida, a terrified son beaten up at school—can overwhelm principles.
It is a pleasure to watch these four strong actors perform under Matt Pfeiffer’s excellent direction. It is also extraordinary to be able to see a world premiere by an important playwright in a 60-seat house. Matt Saunders’s detailed set seems a perfect reversion to origins, since Studio X was an old garage before it became a theatre.
Theatre Exile at Studio X,1340 South 13th Street (13th and Reed Sts.). Through May 19. Tickets $10-37. Information: 215-218-4022 or www.theatreexile.org
By Toby Zinman