Carlsbad, CA— New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad has, over the years, mounted four of Sam Shepard’s plays: “A Lie Of The Mind”, “Curse Of The Starving Class”, “True West” and “Fool For Love”. “Simpatico” marks the fifth. For San Diego audiences, these are good choices for this company since they do Shepard sooo well.
Sam Shepard is a man of many hats. He is a playwright, an actor, a teacher, a performer and a television and film director. He won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his 1979 play “Buried Child” and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1983 for his portrayal of Chuck Yeager in the film “The Right Stuff”. Maybe that’s why his characters wear so many hats as well.
For the most part his characters are not the ones you want to take home to meet the family. Most are social misfits, outcasts, live on the fringe and tend to be the underdog in an otherwise upward mobile society. But don’t be misled by looks. Shepard’s peeps have a way of saying one thing and meaning another. They also appear to be one thing and turn out to be the polar opposite. The fact is, as in “Simpatico”, the real ones never ‘stand up’.
Take for example Vinnie (Manny Fernandes). He claims to be a detective. He has a gun, a badge, handcuffs and false ID. But is he a blackmailer who claims to be a detective or a detective who takes blackmail bucks? Carter (Mike Sears), his life long friend and one time partner is a horse breeder (or is he?). He also insists that everything at home is just fine, but we learn otherwise later.
At home, Carter is about to sell his prize-winning stallion Simpatico for big bucks when Vinnie calls him to bail him out of jail. Vinnie lives in Cucamonga, CA and Carter lives in Lexington Kentucky. Before we know it, Carter is at Vinnie’s place.
When Carter gets to Vinnie, he’s sleeping off a drunken binge. His place is one pile of rubble after another. After Carter tiptoes through Vinnie’s strewn about dirty clothes on the floor, so as not to let any of the germs infiltrate his shoes, he wakes Vinnie up to see what the emergency call was all about.
It seems a woman named Cecilia (Kim Strassburger) that he met at the local watering hole, called the police on him. He was booked for Trespassing, Invasion of Privacy and Harassment. According to Cecelia whom Carter visits later on to set the record straight about Vinnie, she never called… well; she might have called the police but never pressed charges.
Back at the bungalow, we learn the real McCoy (we think) about Vinnie and Carter’s business venture together. It seems they raced horses and got greedy after a while. They decided to run a horseracing scam that both Vinnie and Carter set up and happened well over fifteen years ago.
It’s long and convoluted but in essence they swapped out winning picks for has-beens (matching their looks carefully) and bet on the long shots making kudos bucks until Simms (Jack Missett) the racing Commissioner found out. But before he could revoke their racing permits they convinced Vinnie’s (now Carter’s) wife, Rosie (Terri Parks) to lure the commissioner into her den and then took photos of him in compromising positions and framed him. Both left town; Vinnie with the photos and Carter with Rosie in Vinnie’s 1958 Buick Roadster.
Vinnie is living off blackmail money from Carter; Simms (who changed his name and identity) is hiding away in Midway, KY. and is also getting blackmail money from Carter, Rosie is settled in Lexington with Carter and a few kids living unhappily ever after.
If the plot sounds complicated it’s not nearly as complex as Shepard’s characters. Watching the story unfold and seeing the players shift in their stories is like watching a spiral of concentric circles spin in and out until you don’t have a beginning or an ending as a point of reference. It’s sort of like ‘turn about is fair play’ even though none of the characters would recognize fair play if it hit them over the head.
With a one two punch including excellent direction by Lisa Berger and the multi talented ensemble assembled, the playing time for “Simpatico” of 2 hours and forty-five minutes speeds by. It was hard not to want to know exactly what and wherefore these characters were up to but more information seemed to be less and at plays end, yours truly was left with a push neither here nor there in betting terms.
Manny Fernandes never ceases to amaze. He wears the role of Vinnie like a glove. He never wavers as Vinnie the slob, the hung over victim or as Vinnie the hunter on the attack. Whether standing head and shoulders over Simms or baiting Carter or luring Rosie back to the fold, he comes on like a Mack truck. He is simply an all around fine actor.
Kim Strassburger is on target as Cecilia. She too plays both ends against the middle and does it to perfection. I have seen her do great comedy but her becoming Cecilia brings another dimension to her all around fine characterization of another of Shepard’s odd ball folk with a bit of irony not lost in that innocent smile yet indignant approach.
Mike Sears’s Carter does another unexpected about face and does it well. But for the fact that when we first meet him, it was difficult to understand what he was saying he too does fine work as Carter the tightly wound up coil who does a slow unravel in front of our eyes.
Jack Missett, an NVA ensemble member, is perfectly cast as Simms. Although once a victim of blackmail, he turns out to be a slime ball now on the take. It’s another great casting call on Berger’s watch. Both Terri Park’s Rosie and Kelly Iverson’s Kelly (Rosie’s girl Friday for lack of a better term) serve their roles with expertise. Park’s small role gives us some insight into the why of the men she attracts.
Tim Wallace designed the multi level and deeply raked set to match both the character’s locations and their slightly tilted personalities. Kristianne Kurner’s costumes fit the bill and Justine Hall’s lighting design is subtle as it gives us a bit of noir texture. Overall, Shepard fares well at New Village Arts. This one, edgy as it seems, leaves room for a bit of quiet humor. It’s worth a trip to Carlsbad.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: through March 27th
Organization: New Village Arts Theatre
Production Type: Drama
Where: 2787 State Street, Carlsbad, CA 92008
Ticket Prices: $25.00 and $30.00
Venue: New Village Arts Theatre