Furthest From the Sun,” co-written and directed by actor Woody Harrelson, is billed as “a comedy about the usual things: racism, sexism, jealousy and fear.” It is a helpful tip indeed, for a theatergoer without foreknowledge of the play’s subject might easily emerge thinking that Harrelson had produced a racist and sexist play about nothing, with frightfully bad writing and acting.
Based on Harrelson’s experience before his rise to prominence and penned with long-time chum Frankie Hyman, “Furthest From the Sun” recounts the misadventures of a motley crew sharing a run-down apartment in Houston, Texas.
Harrelson’s alter-ego, played by Steve Guttenberg, is a sputtering cretin named Zach, whose primary interest is sex, and whose secondary interests are beer and drugs. Clint Allen, who manages to play himself poorly, is Zach’s dopey roommate. He is smarter and more refined than Zach, which means only that he is able to form complete sentences and refrain from humping the leg of every woman who enters his line of vision.
Into the mix drops Frankie (Tom Wright), a reformed New York street hustler and fellow cretin. Also present is a flamboyant pimp calling himself Dago-Czech (Michael Harris), who drops by periodically to deliver garbled oratories on the salient issues of the play — sex and beer.
There are women, too, although neither Zach nor Harrelson seems to know what to do with them. Sisters, played by Tonia Jackson and Tanya Crutchfield, are seduced by Zach and Frankie, verbally abused, and repeatedly pawed at before falling head-over-heels for the obnoxious duo. Zach’s former girlfriend (Mariah O’Brien), meanwhile, wanders around in the background spouting New Age dreck.
If Harrelson and Hyman had bothered to give their play a plot, one suspects that it would have been lost in the cacophony produced by Guttenberg. Exhibiting none of his usual benign charm, the veteran film and stage actor turns his volume knob to full and discharges his lines in an uninterrupted stream of mangled street patois. Harris as Dago-Czech attempts the same, but is rendered nearly inaudible by poorly designed sound (a small blessing).
Wright fares somewhat better as Frankie. If, however, the central interest of the play is the developing friendship between the white Zach and the black Frankie, it is surely something of a shortcoming that the two not only seem to dislike each other, but are equally repugnant personalities in their own right.
The play’s purported discussion of race and gender comes primarily during a free-for-all dinner in which Frankie delivers a phony sermon about empowerment while trying to score with his date. Clint wanders in to add his two cents about “the Man.” And Zach gurgles and shudders like an infant in need of changing.
The intended message would seem to be that the deep rifts in American society might be bridged if we would only start smoking more pot and treating women like cattle. The impression that the unenlightened theatergoer may take, however, is that “Furthest From the Sun” ought to be shoved into a dark place and forgotten.