Stages

Somebody thought it was a good idea for a play. Four guys sit around and say what's on their minds, sexual betrayal is discovered, somebody ends up getting shot. I don't know. Maybe there's an idea in there somewhere. But these are about the most boring four men to be found on the face of the Earth, and nobody in his or her right mind--I'm talking paying audiences here--ought to be forced to sit through the incredibly long hour and a half it takes for these morons to get through their lines.

Trappers, written by Actors Theatre of Phoenix managing director Jim Pinkerton and staged by that company, doesn't tell a story so much as replicate what men of limited verbal skills say to each other.

An important characteristic of their speech is the expletive. Certainly, I have heard real men who talk like this--I spent almost eight years in the Army--but the combination of expletives and nothing to say is boring.

When I go to the theatre, I do not want to be bored. A few well-placed obscenities to convey emotion usually cause no harm in this day and age. David Mamet in Glengarry Glen Ross pulled it off, just barely. And people complained even then.

My resenting the playwright for making his characters so pitiful in their communication skills is, I think, an unintended response. Or at least I hope it is.

Admittedly, the opening scene of Trappers is a great hook--a guy in Jockey shorts holds a rifle, another guy lies dead in a Jeep, a third is drunk in the back, the fourth sobs on the ground. It turns out that the scene is an introductory flashback, and the play then proceeds to inform us how this scene of carnage came to pass. The technique is usually an unwise one, because unless the story of how they got from there is riveting, the big climax is blown right at the beginning. There's nothing to look forward to, except figuring out the hows and whys. As far as Trappers is concerned, the hows and whys got lost somewhere among the talk of cars, women, cars, drinking, cars, hunting, cars and the merest hint of what might have turned out to be interesting--maybe one of the men is gay! Oh, those teasing little hints that were dropped, just like in the coy days of yore, when homosexuality was the love that dared not speak its name. Despite playwright Pinkerton's apparent relish for obscenities, he didn't seem ready to take the work in the explicit direction the subtext seemed to pull it.

In fact, Trappers was at the level of a drama-workshop presentation. The opening scene was one of those tricks writing teachers pull on students--okay, here's a situation, here are the characters, where's the motivation and story behind it? It's too bad Herberger audience members weren't solicited for their input, because they probably would have pointed out that nobody wants to sit for an hour and a half watching characters dumber than they are. By the time it was made clear where the dead body had come from, no one cared. Judging by the synchronized wrist-turning in the audience as people consulted their watches, no one had cared for a long, long time.

Trappers is not a finished play, and the audience at Herberger had been misled into buying tickets for an unprofessional theatrical experience. Actors Theatre of Phoenix owes audiences no less than what they pay for.--Kathleen Ellison

 
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