The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Barry Pineo, August 15, 2008, Arts

Brass Ring

Hyde Park Theatre, through Aug. 30

Running time: 2 hr

Ervin and Wyatt are two hit men sitting in a room in some wasted tenement, waiting to hear from their boss, the "old man," about a job.

Ervin and Wyatt go way back, and not only have they known each other since they were kids, but they've managed to raise a boy together: Asher, who they've trained to the life. Suddenly, to their surprise, into the room walks Jazz, Ervin's ex, and over the course of a couple of hours, all three of their lives are altered forever.

The setup for Brass Ring is, without question, compelling and has been used before, notably by Harold Pinter in his long one-act The Dumb Waiter. But while Pinter has his killers stay in one room for the length of his story, playwright Shanon Weaver takes us back and forth in time, showing the developing relationships between Ervin and Jazz and Jazz and Asher.

Brass Ring is actually a sequel to Weaver's HIT., which was produced with much fanfare a few years ago. The world premiere by A Chick & a Dude Productions – Weaver being the dude and Melissa Livingston, who directs the shows, being the chick – won more than a few local awards, and its presentation at the New York International Fringe Festival earned the cast an ensemble acting award. That cast returns for this stand-alone sequel, with Kenneth Wayne Bradley, Joel Citty, and Weaver all reprising their roles as Ervin, Wyatt, and Asher, respectively, and adding T. Lynn Mikeska as Jazz. Talented and accomplished actors all, but while much acting talent is on display, I admit some confusion concerning their choice of style. While Weaver's writing is often clever, playing on the idea of hardened criminals being regular people with the same needs and desires as everyone else, albeit in a more extreme work environment, the dialogue sometimes comes off as clichéd and trite. I'm uncertain as to whether this was because of the writing or its delivery, as often the actors seem to be working to convince us that they are hardened criminals, rather than just allowing that fact to be omnipresent in the story, as it is in the writing. Livingston's staging doesn't always help. Scenes play most effectively when she has her actors stay still; when she moves them around, the movement often seems unmotivated and flat.

But here's the twist, and it's a good one: I didn't see the ending coming, and despite its unquestionably tragic nature, I found it ultimately satisfying. While I wish I could have seen more moments such as the one when Wyatt sits alone by his wounded pal's bed, talking quietly to him, with Citty trusting both himself and the dialogue, Weaver's story twists and turns, one moment comic, the next deadly serious, and his final twist, when all the strands of his intricately woven web fall into place, may just have you gasping for air.

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