Running time:1 HOUR, 10 MIN.
John … Tracy Griswold
Fred … Dan Formento
Beth … Cynthia Hannah
William … Larry Swansen
Sarah … Mary Jane Wells
Several times during his brief domestic drama “Shotgun,” Romulus Linney goes out of his way to ridicule cliches and psycho-babble. It’s as if he’s crying for help as his play sinks deeper and deeper into cliches and psycho-babble. “Shotgun” ends up with only one virtue, its brevity, and at its opening night Stamford Theater Works performance, the play ran 10 minutes shorter than the 80 minutes announced in the playbill.
Originally produced by the Actors Theater of Louisville, “Shotgun” never begins to fulfill the expectations raised by this prolific and well-regarded playwright. It also leaves its audience bewildered as to whether it’s a short long play or a long short play. This production does nothing to clarify matters; neither director Steve Karp nor his cast rise above the one-dimensional level of a staged reading, while set designer David Kutos provides a wildly inappropriate set that makes it impossible for the actors to make anything but awkward entrances and exits.
The dialogue clearly suggests that the action is taking place in a much-loved old lakeside vacation home. Kutos has designed a bleak off-kilter bare-wood box, its only decoration a pair of antlers, its only furniture a bench, a rocking chair and an upturned wooden crate. The play itself begins cozy — eventually descending into violence — but the set is never cozy, leaving the audience wondering why anyone would inhabit this vacation home in the first place, let alone love it.
Five characters are gathered at the lake: a 40-ish married couple, their longtime friend and the husband’s divorced parents. The husband (Tracy Griswold) and his wife (Cynthia Hannah) announce that they have separated prior to a divorce so that the wife can marry their best friend (Dan Formento). Not to be outdone, the divorced parents (Larry Swansen and Mary Jane Wells) announce that they plan to remarry after more than 20 years apart and many years of therapy.
At first everyone seems civilized and amicable about this switching and rematching of partners. But then several parcels are delivered to the house (the local delivery service is remarkably efficient), the first two of which are a double-barreled shotgun and its cleaning equipment.
Matters go from bad to worse, civility and amicability go out the door, and seething anger erupts. The play ends with a double murder, presumably of the wrong couple. This ending, which is preceded by the embarrassing sounds of offstage sexual coupling, is particularly difficult to believe or accept, as is much of what precedes it. Linney dabbles abortively in pseudo-Pinteresque bare-bones dialogue as he throws out several red herrings, including the fact that the best friend is bisexual. Just what the song “Beautiful Dreamer” is doing here is anyone’s guess.
Even if the play were brilliantly directed, acted and set, it’s unlikely that “Shotgun” would transcend its obvious deficiencies. It’s difficult to see this work as anything but a most unfortunate lapse by a playwright with the experience to know and do far better.