I'm all for complex interpersonal family dramas. "August: Osage Country" for example is one of the best. But the current production from Bash Theatre and Radial Theater Project, "Beating Up Bachman" playing at West of Lenin is not that play no matter how much it tries to be. With its competing and often unresolved plot lines, disjointed dialog and a cast who at times feels like they just got the script, "Beating Up Bachman" felt like a play in its Early Stages of life, thrust upon an audience too soon.
Born out of improvisational workshops with the actors, director David Gassner and writer Wayne Rawley, the play focuses on the three Trucker sisters each with their own dysfunctional families. Jennifer (Jenn Ruzumna) with the passing of her husband and ensuing custody battle, Lisa and Ryan (Lisa Every and Ryan Sanders) and their legal issues and Elizabeth (Elizabeth Deutsch) and her psychotic husband Bachman who has disappeared after coming at her with an ax; each are trying to cope with whatever comes along in their small Eastern Washington town as best they can. And apparently one way they've chosen to cope is to hunt down the perpetual screw up Bachman and beat him up. At least that's what the title of the show would have you believe was the central conceit but actually amounts for very little of the play. It's really more about these three women trying to make something out of their lives but unfortunately after all the buildup of these competing storylines, their resolutions feel like afterthoughts (assuming they got a resolution).
As I said, this show came out of improvisational workshops from the actors and then was reshaped by the director and writer. And from the likes of Rawley, who brought us the brilliant "Live From The Last Night of My Life", and Seattle theater staple Gassner I would expect this to be a slam dunk. But the dialogue feels almost unedited as it redundantly drones on and often has one liners completely out of left field with no set up or reason to be there.
But even a disjointed script can be saved by a gifted cast but unfortunately for people who helped create these characters, very few of them seemed to be connecting with them or with their fellow actors. There wasn't a lot of listening going on between the actors, just people waiting for their next line creating very little sense of cohesion. If I can offer some advice to the cast it's to start asking questions. Who am I? What do I want? Why am I saying this? Who am I talking to? These may sound like basic acting techniques and are but I didn't get a sense that they had been asked and without that it's just so much reading lines on stage. There were some exceptions. Jenn Ruzumna, Chris Macdonald and Cristopher Berns have a few interesting moments and character choices in the show but those moments are fleeting.
All and all it's an interesting concept in need of some serious editing (3 hours is way too long) and a stronger feel of what it's trying to convey. Without that it just felt messy and flat.
"Beating Up Bachman" performs at West of Lenin through February 16th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.radialtheater.org or www.bashtheatre.org.
Photo credit: Armen Stein