Pocatello is a sad tale about the very town from which many of us New Yorkers hail. Thus it is a reminder of why we came here. Because back there was trapped in a time warp. And woe to those who don’t make it out.
Eddie (T.R. Knight) is one of those rare guys who grew up loving where he lived. His grandfather homesteaded in Pocatello, coming up from Utah and building a house, the remnants of which are still standing. These days it is a hangout for the young folk who have nowhere else to go. Sometimes Eddie still goes there, just to feel normal. He is actually one of the fortunate, because he has a safety zone. The rest of these folks do not. As soon, as he leaves his property, however, and passes by the line of chain stores – Home Depot, Staples, Appleby’s etc. he is at sea.
As a matter of fact everyone here is adrift. It seems to be what Pocatello does to people. The only thing to do is to get out – or as Isabelle (Elvy Yost) advises – just let go of this job and move one down the highway to another one. Work because you have to and don’t get attached. And while it is good advice, and while people give lip service to it, everyone is looking for something that will make their life happy.
Tammy (Jessica Dickey) and Troy (Danny Wolohan) were teenage sweethearts who don’t know how to not fight anymore. Their daughter Becky (Leah Karpel) is so angry with how the world works that her solution is to refuse to participate, even going so far as to deny her name because no one who is on the planet deserves a name. Max (Cameron Scoggins) is pretending he is not an addict by getting by on his charming ways. Eddie’s brother Nick (Brian Hutchison) is practically allergic to his home town and is offended by his brother’s attempts to connect. Doris (Brenda Wehle), Eddie and Nick’s mother is living a life of quiet desperation. Well, not that quiet. The only one who seems to have it together is Cole (Jonathan Hogan), Troy’s father – and he has Alzheimer’s that comes and goes.
Samuel D. Hunter (a 2014 MacArthur Fellow) paints these people in shades of sadness so unrelenting that after about 30 minutes of this it is difficult to breathe. The trajectory of the demise of the restaurant and everyone associated with it never waivers. Hunter saves the words of wisdom for the penultimate scene where Cole, in a moment of clarity, tells his granddaughter that she is complicating her life unnecessarily, lucidity is overrated, and that for an intelligent person the world appears to be filled with idiots. This is followed by a Come-To-Jesus moment with Doris and Eddie who talk about the past sorrows as if for the first time – hard to swallow that. The lights go down and the story stops.
I say the play stops because that is what it does. There is no end, which is probably what Mr. Hunter intended. Life has no end so why should a story? Now, I am not one for tying things up with a pretty bow. I am, however, one for punctuating a tale. Mark out the journey so we have some sense of where we are going. With Pocatello there is not one iota of structure to help the story become something greater than itself, something that releases us from the torpor that is omnipresent. And although this is a very, very, VERY fine cast they cannot create what is not in the text.
Mr. Hunter ushers us into the basement of these characters’ lives and locks the door at the top of the stairs. We are all marooned. What suffers most are the characters. They are extraordinary folks who could use some sunlight to throw the place they occupy on this planet into relief. As it is, their magic remains monochromatic and undiscovered.
By Samuel D. Hunter; directed by Davis McCallum; sets by Lauren Helpern; costumes by Jessica Pabst; lighting by Eric Southern; sound by Matt Tierney; production stage manager, Lisa Ann Chernoff. Presented by Playwrights Horizons, Tim Sanford, artistic director; Leslie Marcus, managing director; Carol Fishman, general manager. At Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, Clinton, 212-279-4200, playwrightshorizons.org. Through Jan. 4. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes.
WITH: Jessica Dickey (Tammy), Jonathan Hogan (Cole), Crystal Finn (Kelly), Brian Hutchison (Nick), Leah Karpel (Becky), T. R. Knight (Eddie), Cameron Scoggins (Max), Brenda Wehle (Doris), Danny Wolohan (Troy) and Elvy Yost (Isabelle).