In a “first-look” deal with Echo Theater Co., Showtime Networks has underwritten this dark comedy by Rick Cleveland, who has fashioned an intriguing scenario of a California pot cultivator who instills some “home grown” vitality into the failed farm of his Ohio cousins. Unfortunately, Paul McCrane’s unfocused staging and a tentative, under-rehearsed ensemble severely hamper the comedic potential of the work, which just may be better suited for the screen than the stage.
Played out in a series of short, scenic vignettes, the action centers in rural LaGrange, Ohio, on the woebegone 180-acre non-working farm of middle-aged Korean War vet Roy Hocker (Guy Boyd), who spends most of his time inert, listening to the radio signals being transmitted through the steel plate in his head. Roy’s exceedingly dysfunctional extended family includes his long-suffering school bus driver wife, Shirley (Lois Foraker), thrice-divorced daughter Jenny (Karen S. Gregan), Jenny’s surly, MS-inflicted teenage son Luke (Jeremy Maxwell), Roy’s gun-toting mother Vera (Patience Cleveland), Shirley’s delusional brother Dick (Richard Kuhlman) and Jenny’s latest ex-husband Bob (Butch Hammett), a state trooper who still carries a torch for his former wife.
Everybody’s life is turned around by the arrival of Roy’s cousin Don (Brian Cousins), whose diffident, soft-spoken ways belie a sinister past. Having achieved some success as a pot grower in California, Don is on the lam following his accidental shooting of a highway patrolman. Once Don convinces Roy to join in his unique agricultural venture, everybody’s life begins to brighten. Within months the farm is out of debt, Don is bedding Jenny, Grandma Vera now has her own AK47 and Luke’s sampling of the “home grown” actually appears to be alleviating his MS symptoms. But the illusion of well-being bursts when state trooper Bob (Butch Hammett) walks in on the operation.
McCrane fails to define the progression of choppy scenes, many of which simply come and go without clearly stating their purpose. It doesn’t help that much of the ensemble appears to be barely past the process of having memorized their lines, failing to establish complete, well-wrought characters.
An exception is Boyd, who believably communicates the slow reawakening of Roy’s long-dormant spirit and humanity. Also lending solid support is Foraker as Shirley, whose ongoing amazement at the proceedings around comes closest to realizing the playwright’s comedic intent.
Almost dominating the production is Mark Worthington’s creative, mobile set design, which quickly transforms from the farm house to the inside of the barn. Max Kinberg’s vintage country music sound design also does much to sustain the mood during the many scene changes.
Cleveland’s feature “Jerry and Tom” will be released by Miramax later this year.