At the Rattlestick, there’s yet more wood paneling on the walls, and yet more down-market gothic on display. In American Sligo, Adam Rapp depicts the final night in the wrestling career of Art “Crazy Train” Sligo (Guy Boyd). The story takes a while to get moving, and downshifts through a couple of endings before finally jamming on the brakes. In between, it again shows an off-putting willingness to use the narrow horizons of the characters—the tawdry drug habit, the romance with the girl at Piggly Wiggly—to mount a case for thinking, as one of Sligo’s sons puts it, that everybody is “a sad, pathetic sack of shit.”
Still, there’s no denying Rapp’s febrile talent. Whenever the terrific Paul Sparks roams the stage as Sligo’s coked-up son, the sense of menace grows oppressive. His violent despair might be less attractive than Father Matthew’s spiritual yearning, but it yields a bit of the same result: the feeling that we’re not looking upon some strange creatures, but an inescapable part of ourselves.
Danny Hoch’s Till the Break of Dawn couldn’t be further from a diorama about hard-luck provincial woe, and I thank him profusely for that. In his first non-solo play, he depicts a group of young New Yorkers—teachers, rappers, activists, lovers—traveling to Cuba for a music festival. The story is endless, the acting’s all over the map, and if I thought too hard about a couple of plot points I’m sure they’d fall to splinters. But some misfires are more exciting than others, and Hoch has written one of the most exciting I can recall.
Certainly it’s the most fiercely dialectical. Almost all the characters do here is argue—about politics, art, love, you name it. By the end of the play, everybody’s worldview has been challenged, their principles questioned, their naïveté (not least about Cuba, putative dreamland of revolution) flung in their faces. “They say you’re the Hip-Hop Generation, but y’all the complaining generation,” says an American exile who mocks their big talk. “Just do the work! It’s not glamorous, it’s hard. You don’t get no T-shirt. There’s no theme song. You’re not a hero. It’s just work!” Like Will Power, Rinne Groff, and some other leading young playwrights, Hoch wants to get us moving, but only after busting up our illusions about how easy it’ll be. This is a voice we need to hear.