On a grittily realistic basement set, with hanging lights and storage cage, four guys share a secret and a past crime.
The nature of their felony is gradually, teasingly revealed, while the perpetrators agonize over whether an offstage accomplice, who has just been arrested, will confess to their 20-year-old larceny.
The fast-talking characters of Ed Riche’s “Hail” are a miscellaneous crew, played by a heavy-weight cast: Aiden Flynn is an overbearing, sharp-dressing lawyer, Brian Marler plays an insecure, mild-mannered History professor — a kind of academic Clark Kent without the Superman dimension, Brad Hodder is an intense businessman who married for money, while Bob Joy, returning to the St. John’s stage for the first time since 1978, revels in the zany role of a spaced-out junkie, not quite a street-person, an addict, not a “retard,” as he protests.
The opening-night audience lapped up Joy’s offbeat portrayal of the bum who confesses he would like to be a stay-at-home mom.
Comically vernacular language is forthright, sharp-edged, intense and exciting — and strong enough to warrant being warned about (not to mention those innocuous herbal cigarettes).
Violence simmers under the surface, erupting intermittently. And three herbal cigarettes are smoked.
After the intermission, the second act becomes less taut, more ruminant and existential, as characters debate reparation or retribution for their youthful indiscretion. Can they confess and reimburse, go on the run, disappear, disguise themselves?
The play by now seems to be treading water and waiting for Godot, as the logistics of changing identities are canvassed and theorised, culminating in a telephone call that is finally answered. Still, the full-house, opening-night audience rapturously applauded the premiere of Riche’s black comedy, as well as the quality of performance by four first-rate performers.
Directed by Charlie Thomlinson, the RCA Theatre production of Ed Riche’s “Hail” continues its run at the LSPU Hall until June 5.
Tickets are $30, $25 for students, seniors, and artists.
Running time is 90 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission — and I am still puzzling over the significance of the play’s cryptic title.