Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court, London SW1
Opened 8 November, 2004

This year’s Young Playwrights’ Season in the Royal Court’s studio space has so far seen a mordant comic miniature (Robin French’s Bear Hug) and an interesting though over-egged family drama (The Weather by Clare Pollard).  Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder’s play doesn’t break wildly new ground, but shows a keen sense of dialogue and emotion.  Its prime novelty may be casting Phil “Parklife” Daniels as a New Yorker!

Eddie is happily married – well, he’s married, anyway – to Marie; money’s tight, but they’re slowly making a home in a middle-class district of New York.  Except Eddie’s secretly been chatting online to a teenage boy, and then agrees to meet him for... well, maybe.  Young Arnold, though, turns out to be obsessively looking for a surrogate father; he starts stalking Eddie, and you know it’s all going to come out.

The title is nicely ambiguous: Fresh Kills is the name of a landfill near the huge city dump on Staten Island, where Eddie meets Arnold in his pickup.  However, it also hints that things are not going to end neatly or comfortably. Matters aren’t helped when Eddie’s burly brother-in-law insists that he “get rid” of Arnold “for good”.  Eddie, who’s been dumb but isn’t an evil man, tries to balance it all out.

Wilder’s writing has an admirable moral neutrality to it. She doesn’t judge Eddie in black-and-white terms, even though everyone – including Arnold! – hurls accusations of perversion at him.  In some ways, the character of Eddie contains echoes of his Brooklyn namesake, the confused protagonist of Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge.  You can see the ending coming, but that doesn’t render it anti-climactic.

Wilson Milam directs with his usual unfussy precision, and how designer Ultz got a pickup truck up all those stairs to the theatre is an enigma.  Daniels is often underestimated as an actor, capable of so much more than Estuary wide-boy, as he shows here.  Nicola Walker matches him as Marie, Matt Smith makes a promising pro debut as Arnold, and John Sharian dominates his scenes as brother-in-law Nick.

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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