There’s a potent enough situation but not much of a play in “Fresh Kills,” the new Royal Court offering that, title notwithstanding, seems almost completely stale. American scribe Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder’s title may puzzle Brit spectators not exactly accustomed to references to Staten Island landfills. But this scenario has been written time and again and will continue to be so, long after this thinly sliced slab of melodrama has been hauled off for recycling.
Things might have been better, admittedly, in a more nuanced production, where one wasn’t so aware of a British cast attuning itself to the American accent. But at a time when such issues scarcely pose the problems they once did, a decent cast makes fatally heavy weather of the tough-talking America-speak, working-class style — Phil Daniels’ Eddie, the play’s catalytic part, sounding particularly phony.
Daniels plays a blue-collar odd-job worker in his 30s who has recently begun sneaking away from wife Marie (Nicola Walker) and their young child for some hanky-panky with the ostensibly streetwise 16-year-old Arnold (Matt Smith, marking his professional debut), whom Eddie has met online. That Eddie gives both genders equal sexual time is clear from the first scene, in which, the stage directions delightfully inform us, “Eddie is on the brink of a mind-blowing orgasm.” (This may be an incipient Court theme: The studio Theater Upstairs’ next offering is “A Girl in a Car With a Man.”)
Marie doesn’t know of her husband’s indiscretions — at least at first — and responds generously to Arnold when he starts showing up at the family home, eager to be taken to scout camp (though how he gleaned Eddie’s address is never made clear).
Completing a quartet heading for a shock or two is Eddie’s brother-in-law, Nick (John Sharian, late of Rebecca Gilman’s “The Sweetest Swing in Baseball” at this venue), a rough-and-tumble cop who likes Eddie well enough but knows filial devotion, after all, comes first.
Complications ensue when Arnold’s apparent stalker tendencies intersect with Eddie’s unquenchable gay lust, however covert and complicated that may be. Cue precisely the kind of violent ending one might infer from the title, after which the play doesn’t so much come to a natural end as simply cut out.
One can see something of the appeal of Wilder’s world-view to a British proponent to new writing: She anatomizes class in a way American writers don’t necessarily. (The career-minded Marie, for instance, looks set to outpace her husband in life, leaving one in doubt about the future of their marriage well before Eddie’s peccadilloes come to the fore.) But for the most part, “Fresh Kills” seems predictable and flat, and it doesn’t help that the Court showcased a far superior example of a similarly themed play in Lucy Prebble’s “The Sugar Syndrome” just over a year ago.
Milam has made his U.K. career with high-octane work (“The Lieutenant of Inishmore”), which makes the low-level impact that much greater a surprise. For all its shock tactics, the play seems as clapped-out as the battered old pickup truck that fills most of designer Ultz’s set and that at least has the whiff of authenticity in a way the wayward accents rarely do.