By Nicole Itkin

This was one long show. 

Sam Shepard’s Simpatico, set in the world of horse racing, is a study on how grisly details from the past can resurface and then mess around with everyone’s lives. There are photographs that people desperately want hidden, cheating that people can’t forgive or forget, horse racing, tea, and comments on London.

The show definitely demands a lot of its actors, asking them to base their words and relationships and how they present themselves on events and feelings from 15 years ago, to see everything happening now in this moment but to remember that it all hinges on what once was. 

Acting 

Simpatico is not True West, not Sam Shepard’s best—but it’s thoughtful, if at times meandering, and provides character after character for the actors (Kirk Gostkowski as Carter, Brandon Hughes as Vinnie, Pete Mattaliano as Simms, Elizabeth Bays as Cecilia, Christina Elise Perry as Rosie, and Monica Park as Kelly) to sink their teeth into and try on for size. 

And the actors try. But the distance between what they envision themselves to be doing and what they are doing is wide. As the show goes on, the actors get more comfortable and the characters feel smaller, more real life than cartoon-like. But, unfortunately, only rarely do I feel like the babysitter and the love interest and the slightly sinister business manager are actually on stage. 

There were a few scenes where everything did work for me, and those were excellent. My favorite scenes were all of the scenes in Aims’ office, his many confrontations with the rest of the cast; something about his presence was uniquely capable of inspiring fear in a way that was thrilling to watch. Later, Rosie and Vinnie’s confrontation, years after their marriage dissolves, is sparkling with tension and anger and danger: beautiful passion. 

 Design Elements

The pre-show music worked tremendously, with songs by The Cure and Leonard Cohen matching the slightly dark, slightly light set: all dark wood, with a bit of sun creeping through the window. 

The set was interesting and appropriate for the smaller space: grouped into three corners: one Vinnie’s apartment, one Simms’ office, and the other alternating between Cecelia and Rosie’s homes.  

The clothing choices were interesting but odd. Cecelia’s hot pink and denim skirt combo felt out of place, but I enjoyed her derby dress. Rosie and Kelly both looked picture perfect; it gave a clear sense of the difference in position between their lives and the others. My qualm here was that the movement left the power dynamic unclear. 

Directing 

I wish movement in the play had been used more carefully. The way two characters take up space in one room together tells us so much about the relationship between the two of them. But here, there’s constant movement to the point where each step doesn’t mean much of anything anymore. 

In the first scene, Carter kept trying to leave Vinnie’s room; leaving started off as a threat, something we instinctively wanted to prevent, wanted Vinnie to prevent. But by the sixth (and then seventh) time he attempted to do so, it just seemed unnecessary, and no longer had any sort of pressure or stakes attached to it.

Later, in his confrontation with Simms, Vinnie walked all around Simms’ office, finally ending up standing right next to Simms and leaning down; it was a threatening posture, an undermining of authority that didn’t seem to be called for.  

Overall

This rendition of Sam Shepard’s Simpatico has moments of sparkle and plays with great material, but, unfortunately, the implementation isn’t quite there yet.   

 

Sam Shepard’s Simpatico is playing at the Chain Theatre until June 29th. Tickets available here

The production stars Kirk Gostkowski (World Premiere Garbageman/Off-Bway) as Carter, Brandon Hughes (Charles Whitman on A Crime to Remember/Investigation Discovery) as Vinnie, Pete Mattaliano (The Boom Boom Room/Off-Bway) as Simms, Elizabeth Bays as Cecilia, Christina Elise Perry (This G*d Damn House/Off-Bway) as Rosie, and Monica Park (CPR/Off-Bway) as Kelly.

The production features scenic design by Jackson Berkley, costume design by Debbi Hobson, lighting design by Michael Abrams, and dramaturgy by G.D. Kimble. The producer/managing director is Rick Hamilton. The production is stage managed by Nicole Amaral with assistant stage manager Gabby Macallister. The production assistant is Uma Rao-Labrecque. Publicity by Katie Rosin/Kampfire PR.