Sunday, November 11, 2007

Comp. By John Shea. (Boston Playwright’s Theatre. Boston University)

Comp. By John Shea. (Boston Playwright’s Theatre. Boston University)

Coming back to the Boston University campus after many years can be shocking. Walking with my companions for the evening I noticed the Agganis Sports and Entertainment arena, several theatres, a huge gym with students cycling on bike machines (generating enough energy to light the city of Somerville), and
huge crowds parading down the sidewalk. This was quite different from the gone-to-seed armory I passed everyday on Comm.Ave. as a B.U. student in the early 70’s. What brought me back to my seminal stalking grounds was Somerville playwright John Shea’s new play “Comp.” presented at the Boston Playwright’s Theatre at Boston University. Shea, a Magoun Square resident, and graduate of Boston University’s playwriting program, has written a play set in the “Ville, and centering around the conflict between two brothers over a work-related accident. It seems that one brother Kevin played by Michael F. Walker was involved in an accident that left him a cripple. His brother Marc played by Benjy Schirm was supposed to work that shift, but Kevin filled in because Marc imbibed a bit too much the night before. The brothers have come back to the family home to boil in a hotbed of resentment and recrimination resided over by an archetypical Somerville/Catholic Mom expertly portrayed by Marina Re.

The acting by this trio of brothers and mother is authentic. Having lived in Somerville for quite awhile I can attest to the fact that Shea has captured the banter of the boys in the “Ville, and their caring but overbearing Mom.

The set can only be described as “Somerville minimalist.” The props consist of bottles of Budweiser, a litany of cigarettes, and an ever-present basketball hoop- a symbol of Kevin’s more mobile recent past, and of course the endless sorrows of the plastic Madonna that is well appointed in the boys’ bedroom. The elocution of the words “Retard” “Retarded” as well as others, was executed with the expertise of a linguist with a concentration in Somervillese.

The brothers’ conflict in the confines of a home in the Magoun Square vicinity alternates between boyish jocularity, to the visceral confrontations about the past, and the uncertain future.

Shea told me he is influenced by the great American playwright Eugene O’Neill, and in ways the conflict of the brothers reminded me of the two lost young brothers in “A Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”

The play demands the audience’s attention. It is more often than not loud, brutish, vulgar, and even sentimental. It never seems forced and does not fall into the pits of affectation.

Kate Snodgrass, the artistic director of the theatre, and a very accomplished woman, who I talked to briefly impressed me as being as “ real” as the characters on stage. She even brewed a pot of coffee for my caffeine- deprived mother before the show. Now try to find that treatment on Broadway!

Doug Holder/ The Somerville News.

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