Tennessee Repertory Theatre’s new play Larries, penned by playwright in residence Nate Eppler, opened Saturday at TPAC’s Johnson Theater. The show can perhaps best be described as a quantum unromantic comedy that lampoons virtually everything about family and relationships in the modern world.
The inciting incident is simple enough: wife Wanda (Shannon Hoppe) sends husband Larry (David Compton) an email containing an ultimatum: breed or bail. But Larry doesn’t care because he’s got problems of his own; when he arrived at work, Larry discovered he was already there, fully engaged in his profession of dentistry.
We don’t really know what happens next, except that one Larry gets locked in a trunk and three more show up at home shortly after Wendy arrives to confront her husband for not replying to the email. When she finds herself unable to make any sense of the situation, she calls for aid from her daughter Mackenzie (Amanda Card), who rushes home from college to help, discovering at least three Larries in the living room (there’s a dead one in the closet).
The hilarity that ensues is not entirely pointless, and not entirely pointed, but is without doubt clever. Director René D. Copeland has brought the excellent cast into line with rapid-fire timing and plenty of goofball action, making the most of the script, which may be well-polished and workshopped, but remains somehow lost in itself.
The show depends heavily on two flawed elements: the first is the interaction of multiple individuals, Larries, each from a different timeline, so each a little different; the second is the gatekeeper role filled by Mackenzie.
The whole scenario, though funny enough given the characters and dialogue, can only lead to one conclusion: the choices we make are terrible. And that’s central to the play’s theme, as far as one can tell, that any choice influenced by love is doomed. Only one Larry makes it out of the story with any semblance of his world intact, and that’s the one who never had anything to do with Wendy, never married, and never had children. While this is probably intended to reinforce the value of flexibility, it really just makes marriage look like a hurricane.
Mackenzie’s been in college for three weeks, so naturally, she knows everything. While the play tries to play that against a lost-little-girl element, it doesn’t diminish the narcissistic, know-it-all attitude that makes her a storyline gatekeeper. Don’t get me wrong, she’s realistic enough: self-absorbed, petulant and nerdy – the works. She uses her clever ideas to draw attention to herself, trying to shock and offend for the attention.
Never mind the basic idea: unhappy housewife tries to prevent the empty house syndrome from destroying her and shatters the boundaries of the multiverse with the sheer power of her banality. Never mind the box-store teenager, who looks like a cross between Lazytown’s Stephanie and Amanda Palmer. Never mind her old-soul meets new-science insight, which allows her to guide all the adults through the quantum quagmire. Never mind the sometimes blunt, sometimes downright irksome theme.
That’s because Larries is, fortunately, all about the Larries. Compton’s Larry, presumably the basic Larry 1.0, is overwhelmed but in control, able to cope with the literal existential crisis with relative sanity and a bottle of vodka. Evil Larry (he must be evil, he’s got a goatee – he’s also Geoff Davin) is stronger, more aggressive, and seems to be more in control. Then there’s Heartbreak Larry (Bobby Wyckoff), who traded in his marriage to Wanda in for a short term fling with a secretary and just wants to go back to the life he abandoned. Single Larry, or Super Larry, or Black Larry (Tony Morton) is the only one of the bunch with much sense. Single Larry never married, never had kids, and doesn’t work as a dentist anymore since his business took off.
And Single Larry is clearly the best of the lot, in spite of his failure to live out the cultural ideals. He’s the only character that grows even a skosh. Daughter Mackenzie can’t grow, after all, she’s eighteen and therefore fully realized. The other Larries and Wanda all opt to leave the reality they think they know behind, abandoning each other and their families, sometimes dropping the worst bombs in their arsenals on the way out. But that Single Larry, he’s a good one. He takes care of business, opens his heart, and doesn’t leave the same man as he had been (and he doesn’t leave alone).
The set and effects pull the story together beautifully, with simple elements that capture the normalcy, and some lovely innovation that freaks it right back out. The acting is tight, on the ball, and professional from word one. When the show opened Saturday one of the set pieces was out of place; Hoppe’s Wendy casually and smoothly reassembled a lamp into its place on the side table without missing a beat. The business and dialogue are perfectly timed, each crescendo well-placed in the script and on the boards. No Larry will fail to amuse; Card may just be the best of the cast, but only by a nose – her Mackenzie is animated and sardonic, like a living Bratz doll.
Maybe I don’t get it. Maybe Larries isn’t saying that all relationships are ticking time bombs. Maybe it’s an indictment of sexism in America. Maybe it means to lampoon not love and society but self-absorption and manipulative behavior.
Thing is, I’ve been studying quantum mechanics since I was a child. I’ve always had a family, and it sure had its problems. I even know why the goatee makes Evil Larry evil. I feel like I should get it. Or maybe I do get it, and that’s just all there is to Larries: characters with post-modern realism thrown into a crazy sci-fi sitcom, which I suppose is pretty awesome in its own way.
Larries certainly toys with some boundaries, sometimes successfully. Sadly, it lacks any meaningful interaction between the namesake characters. They’re certainly funny together, but not in a way that really explores the concept. Maybe that just takes a novel. In the final analysis, Larries is fun, but not all of its dimensions are in focus – which dimensions literally and figuratively depend largely on your point of view. In any event, watch out for that soon to be discovered quantum component, the Bitch Quark; it can apparently rend holes in the multiverse.
Larries, a world premiere developed at Tennessee Repertory Theatre through the Ingram New Works Lab and the 2011-12 Ingram New Works Festival, runs through Sept. 21 at the Johnson Theater. Tickets start at $45 (at $11.50 for students with valid ID, some restrictions apply) and are on sale at the TPAC Box Office (at 505 Deaderick St. in Downtown Nashville), by phone at (615) 782-4040 or online (along with more info about the show and its schedule) at www.tennesseerep.org.
*Photos by Shane Burkeen courtesy Tennessee Repertory Theatre.