“Bingo With the Indians” effectively divides fascinating, uneven dramatist Adam Rapp’s good impulses from his bad ones: For most of the play, there’s the precise exploration of the sexual brutality between a naive New Hampshire man and his seducer, and then there’s the implosion of meandering vileness. As always, Rapp sows the seeds of razor-sharp, incisive drama, but for a guy so widely acclaimed, he sure spends a lot of time exploring coprophilia, pedophilia and twee metatheatricality.
There’s a theory that a man who spends a month making 50 clay bowls will ultimately be a better potter than the man who spends a month carefully making a single one. If anyone has taken this notion to heart, it’s Rapp, who has premiered three plays in the past nine months (“Essential Self-Defense” and “American Sligo” are the others) and has another (“The Metal Children”) in an upcoming workshop at the Vineyard.
Though it’s a full production, “Bingo With the Indians,” which Rapp also directs, feels like a workshop, or maybe just an experiment. The play opens with a series of unpromising exchanges between excruciatingly foul actor Stash (the energetic Cooper Daniels, who has to spend most of his stage time hurling thankless Beavis-and-Butthead-style invective) and his director, Dee (Jessica Pohly), who describes herself as “the most underappreciated director below 14th Street.”
Yes, they’re a little downtown theater company — perhaps even a parody of the company putting on “Bingo With the Indians” — and they’re in rural New Hampshire to rob a bingo game. The only ray of light thus far is Wilson (Rob Yang), a stage manager whose gnomic responses to Stash garner some genuine chuckles.
The setup doesn’t take very long to get tiresome, but before all hope is lost, local yokel Steve (a wonderful Evan Enderle) bursts in on this uniquely abhorrent crew, radiating envy. Steve is a combination wonder — Rapp’s detailed sketch of a closeted 19-year-old in a dead-end town is perfectly realized by Enderle, who sees this world mostly with one eye through the curtain of blond hair obscuring his quizzical face.
After Stash has sufficiently terrorized Steve, Rapp takes the opportunity to rid the stage of his less-interesting characters, leaving Steve and Wilson to face one another.
The ensuing power play is both riveting and revolting in a way totally unique to Rapp, recalling the most naked moments from his best work. Then, after surfing this brainwave for long enough to introduce and reintroduce characters in unexpected ways, the play unexpectedly self-destructs.
Coked out of his gourd, Stash parades around the room loudly reciting as obscene a rhyme as Rapp can write — a loud and sexualized love song to small children and feces set to the scansion of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” — for what must be a full five minutes.
The outburst utterly destroys the delicacy of the preceding moments for no discernible reason, and the play concludes with a series of boring musings on the reality or unreality of the theater.
Why does Rapp do this? It’s hard to say. Maybe he didn’t know how to end the play; maybe he needed to get something out of his system. There may be a reason, but there isn’t an excuse — “Bingo With the Indians” could be an irritating but promising attempt, but only coming from another author. We’ve come to expect more from the man who wrote “Nocturne” and “Red Light Winter,” which makes it painful to be so perfunctorily, even gleefully let down.