RICHARD ADAMS, The World Socialist Website (to be posted soon)
Forty-eight hours before their first show, three young guys from Wales arrived in LA. This was the first time playwright Owen Thomas, actor-director Gareth John Bale, and actor Alistair Sill had been to California and the first time their work has been seen in the U.S.
Thomas’s two-character play Richard Parker was a hit at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe and is coming off a successful U.K. tour. We have producers Michael Blaha and Darkman Productions to thank for bringing this terrific bare-bones production to the Hollywood Fringe.
This tightly coiled comedy tells the story of two men, both named Richard Parker, who meet by chance, fate, or design on the deck of a long-distance ferry. At first, this feels like yet another variation on the Zoo Story set-up: a bookish, rather introverted fellow has his solitude invaded by a vaguely sinister, too-intense motor mouth. Their initial awkwardness captures that distinctively British struggle to remain polite while barely suppressing pricklish annoyance.
Things quickly turn comically strange when the invader (Bale) addresses (Sill) as “Richard.” How does (Bale) know (Sill’s) name? [To write about two characters with the same name, one has to use the actor’s names.] Bale vamps and parries until he blurts that they’re both named Richard Parker. Coincidence? Sill insists that it is; Bale insists that something much larger and far more mysterious is at work.
With the floodgates open, Bale begins a litany of monumental historical coincidences that involve various shipwrecks, assassinated American presidents and their assasins, literary works that anticipate macabre real world events, and other equally strange coincidences worthy of Bale’s favorite author, Edgar Allen Poe. Bale’s obsession with these facts and his encyclopedic knowledge of them is by turns hysterically funny, marvelous, and unsettling. It all turns ominous when Bale predicts that these strange cosmic forces will compel the sinking of their ferry leaving the two of them adrift in a life raft. Bale also predicts that he will be forced to cannibalize Sill’s body to survive – precisely the way the body of Young Dick Parker sustained a drifting shipwrecked crew in May 1884. Of course, Sill thinks Bale is barking mad until …
Act Two discovers the two Richard Parkers, splattered with seagull droppings, crazed with hunger and thirst, adrift on the open sea. It would ruin the fun to describe their unhinged battles over a tin of sardines or the startling reversals and revelations that ensue.
This is a terrific one-hour play brilliantly played by Gareth John Bale and Alistair Sill.
While completely satisfying as is, I’d challenge Owen Thomas (after a showcase in Cardiff, Wales, of what I gather is now Act One, Thomas was commissioned by the 3D Theatre Company to create Act Two) to grace us with an imagined Act Three of Richard Parker adrift with the dead body of Richard Parker before his “fated” rescue.
And, no, I won’t tell you which Richard survived.
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