"Shanks" but no thanks
"Armitage Shanks" is a sometimes witty but ultimately frustrating play about four people stuck in a room and planning to someday bust out and hurt someone.
By JOSHUA TANZER
"Armitage Shanks" is named, inexplicably, after a line of toilets, but it would be better off named something like "Four Characters Waiting for a Plot." Into their own private purgatory actually a room in some unnamed building that for some reason they can't leave arrive two childhood buddies, a girlfriend, and some kind of a terrorist mastermind carrying a satchel full of guns. Actually, these four do have a "plot" some nefarious but unexplained scheme to do something bad with all the weapons collected in the room. They just lack the kind of a plot that comes from the writer giving the audience some idea what's going on and to what end.
The dialogue in "Armitage Shanks" is sometimes sharp and seems promising at first. There's this quick-witted sparring between the main character, Carl, and his emotionally fragile buddy's girlfriend:
|Written by: Kirk Marcoe.|
Cast: D.J. Mendel, Tim McGee, Raquel Cion, Jessma Evans.
Buddy: "We're perfect for each other."
Laura: "I reassure him."
Laura: "I hold him and tell him everything will be okay."
Carl: "And that works?"
Laura: "It seems to."
Carl: "Well, can you reassure me?"
Laura: "It'll be all right."
Carl: "Aren't you supposed to hold me?"
Often we get the kind of conversation that people who've known each other a long time might have, where they don't have to explain any of the back story because they've lived it together. And there are some intriguingly strange events to grapple with as the stage becomes increasingly cluttered with empty liquor bottles, guns, a knife, a sword, and a couple of severed heads. But the audience is done no favors, as subjects of conversation are casually mentioned without explanation and without ever being returned to. It's ultimately frustrating for the viewer it seems as if there's going to be a point to all of the play's activity, but it never becomes clear.
Some adventurous theatergoers will be more open to this kind of abstract, going-nowhere play than I am and may see more in it than I do. I try to give the playwright plenty of time to make some sense of even the most nonlinear story, but with rare exceptions (see "Hyperreal America" or "Angry Little People") they come up short. That's the case with "Armitage Shanks," hardly the first play to put a bunch of people in a room with no exit and no future.
|MAY 16, 2001|
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