Dysfunctional families! What would theater be without dysfunctional families? From Sophocles to Arthur Miller and on to Tracy Letts, audiences have related to and been mesmerized by tragic family dynamics. Unfortunately, Wayne Rawley’s play, “Beating Up Bachman,” is as dysfunctional as are its characters, the maladjusted Trucker family.
Produced by Radial Theater Project and Bash Theatre, this is a play where less would have been more. As is, it has too many complications, too many subplots and too long a running time.
Three sisters and their mother are at the center of this stereotypical east of the mountains, working-class, beer-drinking family where disasters fall like Seattle rain. Lisa (powerfully played by Lisa Every) is the stable force. Her kitchen is where all the characters come to tear their hair out, seek comfort and plot revenge.
The latest incident in their disorderly lives involves a purported ax attack on sister Elizabeth by Bachman, one of the batty men of the extended family. Then all too quickly the husband of another sister drops dead; a vigilante force, including the men in the family, sets out to beat up Bachman; a lawsuit is revealed; a former drug- and alcohol-addicted wife of the dead man shows up to sell cactus products guaranteed to give one personal fulfillment; a custody fight for a disabled child ensues. And those are just some of the complications.
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The production does have some strengths. Director David Gassner’s scenic and lighting team create a believable environment. Suzi Tucker’s set design is sleek and efficient. Sara Thiessen, the mother of the brood, cleverly combines both anger and bewilderment at a life gone awry. Lori Stein is marvelous as the dead man’s first wife, exuding that insufferable patience and self-satisfaction that too often characterizes those who have been reborn, even if the rebirth is gained through a line of cactus products.
This production evolved as acting company, director and playwright worked together for months, improvising, tweaking, redoing scenes and elaborating roles. The process may be a good one, but the playwright needed to hone the text down to workable proportions. Sadly that didn’t happen. There’s the germ of a good play here, but it’s not there yet.
Nancy Worssam: firstname.lastname@example.org