Wrecks taps the dark underbelly of American society to produce what appears at first to be an unconventional love story, but one with a potent twist in the tale.
The ever mercurial Bush has been transformed into a funeral parlour, where Edward Carr, a second hand car salesman, played by Robert Glenister, is due to deliver his wife Mary Jo’s eulogy the following day.
Puffing away on his Camel cigarettes, a life long habit that has given him terminal cancer. He has eight months to live and needs to get everything out into the open.
Sitting centre stage is a huge polished wood coffin, that almost blocks the entrance to this tiny studio space. It dominates the intimate auditorium during Edward’s beyond the grave reckoning with his wife, as she looks on, smiling serenely, from a photograph resting on a lectern at the side of the stage.
Chain smoking and gesticulating, Edward paces around the room recounting his life history: he was an orphan abandoned by his mother and brought up in foster care, who went on to run a classic car rental business. He speaks tenderly about the unfairness of the cancer that ravaged his wife, about meeting her for the first time, their affair, and the child she bore out of wedlock. He concentrates particularly on the overpowering attraction he felt for her despite the 15 year age difference.
At times this story telling lacked momentum and vigour; it didn’t seem to be going anywhere. But this is because all the real drama is concertinaed into the last third of the play, beginning with his account of his wife’s death bed confession.
I had already guessed the twist at this stage but, even so, the revelation spun me around and sent me looking back over the play, seeing new meaning everywhere and replacing feelings of compassion and empathy with distastes and repulsion, much as I imagine Mary-Jo would have, had she lived.
That I worked things out well before the reveal either means I am seriously warped, great at spotting puns or that LaBute is getting hackneyed. I found myself feeling that there was something tacky and cheap about a play built around such a facile pun. Although it would have been a different play it may also have been a better play, if LaBute had not dumbed down and gone for such a tawdry story.
If he had refused to indulge his prurient streak, and instead explored dying and the final undignified stages of life, of the hatred and exhaustion and anger and all the ugly, ugly, rarely admitted to emotions, that terminal illness breaths into families, then this would have been a truly powerful play with something to say about modern day taboos.