Strong characters but weak plot make ‘Day’ average
Something’s rotting in Bob’s frig. Could it be . . . his entire childhood?
Playwright John Kolvenbach isn’t subtle about his symbolism, and “On an Average Day’’ owes such a huge debt to Sam Shepard’s “True West’’ it’s irritating. But the production now playing at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre, which is produced by its two stars, understands Kolvenbach’s weakness — his plot — and his strength — his characters — and uses “On an Average Day’’ as an opportunity to showcase their talent.
Robert Kropf and Gabriel Kuttner don’t disappoint, presenting two brothers who appear very different on the surface but who grow closer as the play unfolds. Kropf plays Bob, a paranoid and delusional man on trial for “you name it,’’ he tells his older brother. As he relates the episode that got him into trouble, Kropf’s portrayal of his madness is delicious to watch. He pads around like a caged animal, crouching on chairs and then flinging himself into another corner. Isolated from the world outside the seedy kitchen where the action takes place, Bob struggles to explain his violent behavior to his brother, drifting into outrageous tangents that range from dangerously intelligent to childishly naïve. Occasionally, he rocks forward on his toes, his eyes go wide and he explodes in a rage, suggesting a man who needs to focus his undivided attention on self-control in order to avoid losing it completely.
Kuttner’s Jack sits placidly at the kitchen table, unmoved by his brother’s outbursts. He asks a few questions, helps himself to several beers, and encourages Bob to drink from the bottle of bourbon on the table. Playing the straight man is never as easy as it looks, and Kuttner suggests more layers than Kolvenbach provides. But the back story about the brothers’ upbringing is delivered in a long monologue, and although Kuttner does his best to animate it, it’s still too much exposition. The revelation that Jack has brought a loaded gun to this brotherly reunion is a dramatic plot twist Kolvenbach fails to use effectively.
Director Valerie Stanford moves the pair gracefully around Jared Coffin’s authentically detailed small kitchen set and Jen Rock’s lighting manages to be subtle and effective, but oddly, nearly all the action is directed toward stage left, which may make half the audience feel left out.
Kolvenbach’s characters are often funny and Kropf and Kuttner infuse them with vulnerability and complexity. But the script has so many logistical holes that it never hangs together as a coherent story and although Kolvenbach has an initially compelling setup, his conclusion is a letdown. Bob describes the nasty odor emanating from his frig as a “scent so strong it scalds your nose,’’ but as symbolism goes, the brothers’ dysfunctional childhoods never rise above mildly distasteful. Even with characters waving a gun around, we never feel there’s much at stake, and despite being driven by some outstanding performances, Kolvenbach’s play never rises above “Average.’’
Terry Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org