Part of the torture of writing a play is having to endure the endless suggestions from just about anybody in the room. Being the pathetically needy people they are, playwrights usually listen, and pretty soon their play gets lost amid the half-baked plays others think it should be. On the other hand, showman Billy Rose once said that he wouldn't open a can of sardines cold. Meaning, of course, that as horrifying as the prospect is, any new work is going to need work.
So the problem with City Theatre's premiere of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's The Muckle Man, or rather my problem with it, is that I don't know whether it's been workshopped too much or not enough. City's been part of the play's development over the last few years, but to what extent I don't know (earlier versions have been staged elsewhere). I do think, however, that what's onstage probably isn't what anyone had in mind.
It's about a marine biologist or something searching for giant squid, and the unhappy wife and children he's brought along to a remote island for the hunt. A mysterious man walks out of the sea and pretty soon everything's weird and poetic. All these bizarre marine-type events happen (like in The Birds, but with fish) and there's some off-stage tragedy. But mostly it's about people who never finish their sentences.
It goes on like this for most of the night -- never bad but never really seeming to mean anything. Aguirre-Sacasa's a talented writer, no doubt, and these mysterioso metaphors are not without interest, but nothing adds up.
And then in the final 10 minutes The Muckle Man becomes a completely different play; out of nowhere you find yourself smack in the middle of a thriller and wondering how you got there. I loved the ending but I still don't know whether the first part of the evening is what Aguirre-Sacasa wanted to write, or whether this last part is what he had in mind.
Tracy Brigden directs with her customary polish and God love the cast for finding an emotional through-line in this thoroughfare of a play. I especially enjoyed Tami Dixon as the wacky sister, a character with absolutely no dramaturgical function except to make me laugh ... so she's OK by me.The Muckle Man continues through Feb. 18. City Theatre, 13th and Bingham streets. 412-431-CITY
- Sea changes: Brett Mack (left) and James Lloyd Reynolds in City Theatre's The Muckle Man. Photo by John Schisler.