By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
“We're quarter-ton clowns.” That’s how Crazy Train Sligo sums up his career as a professional wrestler in Adam Rapp’s American Sligo. New City Stage’s production is both hilarious and chilling, as Aaron Cromie directs this brilliant cast who can turn the mood on a dime.
The play has little to do with literal wrestling but much to do with metaphoric wrestling, as this family wrangles and squabbles and finds new and improved ways to be mean to each other; we watch the family fall to hideous pieces before our eyes, but not before we’ve spent a good deal of time laughing.
Rapp—whoseheartwrenching Nocturne and wild and disturbing Red Light Winter have been seen in Philadelphia—is a young fierce playwright. He begins American Sligo as dysfunctional family dramas usually begin, at a dinner table. This one is covered with a faux lace cloth and with a little action figure at the place setting of their guest, Bobby (Jordan B. Mottram), the hero-worshipping young man who has come to see the historic last Pro Wrestling match of Crazy Train (the enormous and impressive John Jezior). The set (designed by Cory Palmer) is wondrously cluttered
Aunt Bobbie (Susanne Sulby) cannot remember Bobby’s name; she has a kind of Mrs. Malaprop malady, confusing words but chattering on so earnestly that we feel sympathy for her—especially when she’s told that her eyebrow makeup makes her look “like a surly wench at a Renaissance Faire.” Everybody’s got issues: a sacroiliac that’s out of whack, diabetes, cocaine habits, and the heebie-jeebies. This crowd could give anybody the heebie-jeebies.
The two brothers (almost required for an intense, competitive, violent American family drama) are both very smart and very cruel in very different ways. Kyle (the terrific Sam Sherburne) is the seemingly sane if spiteful one always simmering on a slow boil; he is pitted against his degenerate brother Victor (the terrifyingly louche and despairing Allen Radway whose performance anchors the show). The brothers’ girlfriends (Francesca Piccioni and Ginger Dayle) round out the cast, and their characters function mostly as expository devices.
You don’t have to care or know anything about the weird and ugly world of Pro Wrestling to find this show both entertaining and unsettling. Russ Widdall’s curtain speech (cell phones off, blah blah blah) is done in high WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) style, and launches the evening on just the right mock-scary note.