Gregory Moss' Friendship Rituals of the American Male
You don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce where the story's going in Gregory Moss' new play, Reunion. There are just enough clues deftly deposited over its first 90 minutes that when the Big Reveal comes—and, boy, is it a Big Reveal—it doesn't feel forced or manipulative.
Yet, the real skill in Moss' play, something that many a produced playwright and nearly every aspiring one should hard-wire into their creative synapses, is that it doesn't need to go there. It could have veered onto any number of different roads, but the journey of the character isn't about the final destination; it's about getting there. While the journey finishes during a drunken night in a dingy hotel, it's one that sharply detoured 25 years earlier.
Reunion is a sterling example of a play in which the tail doesn't wag the dog; the dog is what counts. Character—not big, messy emotional ketchup bursts (though there are several)—matters. Relationships—not shoehorned contrivances built into the plot to give some ham-fisted sense of dramatic impetus—matter. Dialogue and—far more important and far more difficult to pull off in a play—the unbearable heaviness of what isn't said matters.
Not that this is some ponderous, solemn, pretentious literary beat-off session. While Moss' three middle-aged, not-particularly brilliant characters occasionally sound as if they're exercising their $3-word muscles, they're obviously far more comfortable reliving their youthful days in Boston, when they were best friends skirting the edges of juvenile delinquency and searching for that ancient, heavenly, hard nipple protruding through the starry woolen sweater in the eternal machinery of teenage night.
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There's a lot of booze drinking, pot smoking, head banging, horsing around and ball busting in Reunion, which makes the sickly dawn that breaks after the night of carousing all the more sobering and powerful. The play is set 25 years after Max, Mitchell and Peter graduated from high school. Well, whether Mitch did is debatable. They've gathered for an after-party in a motel room after a reunion no one really wanted to attend. Mitch (Tim Cummings), a hellion as a kid, hasn't changed much. He's still driving muscle cars, living in his parent's house, and apparently living a life as cavalier and surly as the days when he was face-fucking the town bicycle in the front seat of his 1969 Plymouth. Why he even attended the reunion isn't clear until the play's final moments. Peter (Kevin Bernston) is married with three kids, living a quite-responsible life in Anywhere, Suburbia, USA, and is there to reconnect with the Alpha Males whom he idolized as a teen. And Max (Michael Gladis)? Well, he's there for some kind of atonement. Max is a tightly wound ball of nervous energy when the play begins, only unwinding after he realizes the only person he's seeking forgiveness from is himself.
The guys engage in testosterone-fueled antics, mercilessly cutting one another down, ganging up on one another and tearing the motel room to pieces while rocking out to a number of late-1980s metal-band tunes continually piped into the room via Mitch's impossibly enormous boom box. None of the characters is sympathetic for the most part—particularly Mitch and Max, who continually bully the hapless puppy-like Peter, from stuffing him into a torn-up mattress to taping him to the inside of a bathroom door. And Peter's unrelenting exuberance would wear thin in less capable dramatic hands. Yet, thanks to crackling dialogue and three solid performances rich in comedy and imbued with just the right dimension of pained reality, they are very likeable.
These are three men who haven't achieved much in their lives, relatively speaking. Where they work is anyone's guess. Other than Peter and his family, what they love is never established. And amid their bluster and bravado, there's a sense of dread that rounds their shoulders. While it's evident they've come to this reunion to reconnect with their onetime best friends, it also becomes achingly clear they're really there to connect with the people they used to be—people who, in their middle-aged years, they still long to be.
But, of course, they can't. After the partying, shenanigans, drunken explosions and brief moments of genuine connection, there's the morning after to deal with. And it's a morning awash in cruelty, honesty—and pieces that were broken 25 years ago, have slightly healed over the years, but are in danger of fracturing again.
When the least integral character finally departs, we are left with the two men whom the play is truly about. And everything finally comes together. There's no easy resolution, just regrets for choices made and, more important, choices not made. It seems clear that in the small, insular world of Moss' Reunion, all men, indeed, lead lives of quiet desperation. Some of us are just a bit louder and a lot more fucked-up about it than others.
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