Sunday, March 18, 2018

Acting soars in “Late Henry Moss” at none too fragile

Sam Shepard, the author of “The Late Henry Moss,” which is now in production at none too fragile, once wrote, “I believe in my mask-- The man I made up is me.  I believe in my dance--And my destiny.”

His “mask,” consisted of a bleak writing style which had many surrealistic elements, including using black humor to portray rootless characters living on the edge of American society. 

Shepard often showed what psychologists would classify as “daddy issues.”  His father, a military man, who moved the family on a regular basis, was an alcoholic noted for abuse and creating a dysfunctional atmosphere in the Shepard home.

His poetic use of language and the creation of characters rather than plot-centered stories, made him an icon with performers who found lots of “meat” on the bones of those who populated his writings.  

The Shepard writing elements are clearly on display in the depressing “The Late Henry Moss,” including creating people who are not likable and for whom we have little reason to feel empathy.  These are generally low-lifes, who seem to ask for all the pain and suffering that is heaped upon them.

Yes, vintage Sam Shepard!

The basic story centers on the Moss brothers, Ray (Sean Derry) and Earl (Bryant Carroll) who, through a series of present and flashback scenes, confront their own interpersonal relationship and that with their father, their sibling rivalries, and distorted remembrances as they delve into their father’s recent death.

They try to construct the tale of their father’s fishing expedition with a local town prostitute, Conchalla (Diana Frankhauser), a taxi driver (Brian Kenneth Armour) who took them on the expedition, the father’s relationship with Esteban, a trailer park neighbor, and his demise.

The brothers, who haven’t seen each other in seven years, verbally and physically spar in a fight-cage atmosphere, hitting raw nerves by exposing confusion and contradictions. 

None too fragile’s production, under the adept direction of the theatre’s co-Artistic Director, Sean Derry, though overly long, is fast-paced and enveloping.  The verbal and physical punches generally ring true as the angst-level grows. 

With his high quality consistent directing of script after script, it’s easy to forget the high quality of Sean Derry’s acting.  There is no chance of overlooking it in this production.  His soliloquy about their mother is emotionally wrenching.  Near the end of the play he shows masterfully how even silence can evoke strong meaning.

Derry is matched by a finely textured performance by Bryant Carroll.  The duo mesmerizes as they verbally thrust, parry and finally, physically attack!

Nice performances are also put in by Robert Hawkes (Henry Moss) and Brian Kenneth Armour.

Capsule judgment:  As in almost all Sam Shepard blunt, hard hitting plays, the questions of what’s true, what’s fiction, what is family history and what is mythology pervade this tale of dysfunctional relationships in this character-driven tale.  The acting is generally superb, the pace intense, and the over-all effect is unnerving.  If you like good acting and can endure Shepard’s cage-boxing style of writing, this is a production you won’t want to miss.

For tickets for “The Late Henry Moss” which runs through March 31, 2018, call 330-671-4563 or go to

Up next:  Bruce Graham’s “White Guy on The Bus” (May 11-26th)), a story of race, and the dynamic between low-income blacks and economically comfortable whites.