The Late Henry Moss,
Southwark Playhouse, London.
Author: Sam Shepard.
Director: Mel Hillyard.
Producer: W14 Productions.

Cast includes: Joseph Arkley, Harry Ditson, Joe Evans, Chris Jared, Jack Sandle, Carolina Valdés

Dates of run: Sept 2-26

Running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes (no interval)

 

It’s a cliché that death is divisive as the survivors who should be united feud over whatever is left behind.

In the world of Sam Shepard, on the border with Mexico where the boundaries of objective fact and subjective story-telling blur, the fiercest fight is not over possessions, but over memories in a quest for the truth of the relationships between parents and siblings.

Death, meanwhile, is not only final and physical. It is also sexual and spiritual.

Director Mel Hillyard destabilises us from the start with an absurdly animal-passionate tango, between Harry Ditson as Henry and Carolina Valdés as Conchalla, that boldly and authentically pitches the tone somewhere between edgy humour and tragedy.

From then on a classic drama builds and absorbs us fully as younger brother Ray (Joseph Arkley) struggles furiously “to put this together”.

As in many-a sibling relationship, to the impartial observer, what looks like irrationality takes over almost immediately. The marginally mellower elder brother Earl (Jack Sandle) provokes violent outbursts and the box of cheap tools, which is the physical legacy of the late Henry Moss, evokes murderous possibilities.

Caught in the cross-fire, is Joe Evans as an innocent-to-the-point-of-naivety Texan taxi driver and Chris Jared as the more knowing, perhaps complicit neighbour Esteban.

The one woman in this very masculine play is Valdes’ Conchalla, who is gratuitously naked or frankly sexual, depending on your viewpoint. Horribly stereotypical as she is, in this bitter, compelling drama of wasted life, she offers the play’s one hope: that death really is closure.

Barbara Lewis © 2015.

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