In a spellbinding evening of theatre, Ed Harris, one of the most gifted actors to grace the American stage and screen, has done it once again in creating Neil LaBute’s character of Edward Carr in WRECKS, a one-act play being presented at The Geffen Playhouse.
Originally premiered and performed by Harris in Cork, Ireland in 2005, the story, drawing upon Greek mythology in what could be deemed its tragic, or not, depending on your personal interpretation of the shocking or surprise “twist,” takes place in the viewing room of a funeral parlor in Northern Illinois. LaBute, who also directed the current production, crafted a very detailed psychological portrait of a bereaved widower who ruminates, through a roller coaster stream of consciousness ride, on his life with his beloved Mary Josephine Carr, who he lovingly refers to as Jo or Jo-Jo.
The play begins with a silhouette of Harris, a huge illuminated cross and the flower-draped coffin of his wife. In the background, we hear the unseen muffled voices of friends and family who have shown up to pay their respects. The fourth wall is immediately breached and the riveting one-man monologue begins.
In his imagery-rich, totally realized moment-to-moment reality, Harris relives, with sharp clarity and immediacy, the life and times of Carr, beginning with his being raised as an orphan who grew up in the foster care system, referring to the 12 different homes as “shit holes.”
Carr reminisces about the first time he saw Jo-Jo sitting in the back of a vintage Cadillac belonging to her then husband. For him, it was love at first sight referring to her as “A goddess who fell into my life in my 25th year.” Jo-Jo was 15 years older than Carr but this was never a factor in their 30-year marriage and intense love for each other. Lines like “I spent my whole life looking for her,” or “She was worth loving,” punctuate his deep, never wavering love for his deceased wife and perhaps a very subtle clue to the pending raison d’être. It seems that the sum-total of the two of them was far greater than as one and together they built a string of vintage car rental locations, becoming very successful and living a happy, loving life until cancer struck her down. The revelations continue and yet there’s an underlying feeling that something is not being said. Harris fills those unspoken words and strong silences with tremendous power and mercurial transitions. The mystery, the lurking riddle, the deep secret, both Jo-Jo’s and his, not to be revealed just yet.
Staged on a simple, but highly effective set designed by Sibyl Wickersheimer, enhanced by lighting designer Lap Chi Chu, and sound designer Cricket S. Myers, LeBute skillfully keeps the action moving at a good pace while allowing for the highly developed inner life of Harris’ character to slowly reveal itself.
One-man plays run the risk of being tedious, especially if the running time is 80 minutes. In this case, Harris’ tour de force performance manages to fill every moment with excitement, giving a flawless, deeply emotional performance. Whether he’s puffing on a cigarette or gently wiping the casket with his handkerchief or gazing into the eyes of audience members, Harris has a tight grip on the audience, whose participation he expects from time to time.
The Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024-3021, 310.208.5454, Run: Thurs.-Sun thru March 7, Tickets: 310.966.2412