Bones Runs through Dec. 22 at Silver Meteor Gallery, 2213 E. Sixth Ave., Ybor City, Tampa. Showtimes 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays, 3 p.m. Sundays. $15, $10 students/seniors. 813-300-3585.
In a run-down porn cinema in 1960’s Gateshead, England, a notorious psychotic murderer named Reggie Kray arrives to make a phone call and to request that a prostitute be furnished him at once.
The young manager of the cinema, a self-hating Jew and lost soul named Ruben, waits till Kray passes out from too much alcohol, then strips him, ties him to a chair, and leaves him in the theater’s back room. Soon the other men who operate the cinema – irascible Benny the owner, and ridiculous Moon and Beck, the projectionists — become aware of Kray’s presence, and confer on how to proceed with the least risk of violence. They decide to hold their gangster prey for ransom – 4,000 pounds – and to use false names so his mobster colleagues won’t be able to trace them after the money is delivered. But these kidnappers are so hapless, they have to ask Kray himself whom to call to make their demands; and he refuses to help unless one of them shows his sincerity by chopping off a finger.
Ruben, not very convincingly, mutilates himself, and in return for this gesture, Kray assists as promised. But for this untidy bunch, nothing goes smoothly. Ruben especially is tempted by Kray’s gleeful, articulate nihilism to think that he himself might have a future as a murderer, and he imagines that his colleagues must be just as available. Those colleagues, meanwhile, are coming to another conclusion: that only by killing Kray can they escape this caper alive. But these guys aren’t used to hurting anyone. Who will survive this adventure?
Well, that’s the plot of Peter Straughan’s Bones, the two-act black comedy at the newly reopened (and refurbished) Silver Meteor Gallery, and if it sounds potentially riveting, I have to warn you that mostly it’s not. What it is is redolent of other works — Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, and lots of Monty Python sketches, largely — and its final moments are so packed with ultra-meaningful twists, you can almost hear the playwright calling, “Greater Significance! Greater Significance!”
Fortunately, the Silver Meteor production boasts some memorable acting, and Straughan’s lines are occasionally as witty as he wants them to be. So if you can ignore the derivativeness and the illogicalities, there are some moments here worth enjoying. Just don’t be surprised if you get that déjà vu feeling. Modernist anomie, is that you again?
Slake Counts plays gangster Kray, and it’s one of his finest performances. This is a nutcase who enjoys being a nutcase. His speechifying in favor of crime and doing-what-you-feel is always eminently joyful, as if he’s been through a twelve-step program and is now proselytizing for the Higher Amorality. Unfortunately, there are some script problems where Kray is concerned, and Counts’ strong performance can’t mask them.
For example, it’s not at all clear why Ruben would tie him up in the first place, and it’s highly improbable that Kray could so easily convince Ruben to chop off a finger. Then there are moments when Kray could usefully pull a gun or a knife on his captors and fails to do so, as if he’d already read the script and knew he was in no danger. Nonetheless, Counts seems to have such fun spouting his sick philosophy and dominating his twittish captors, you can’t help but enjoy his portrayal. I have a feeling that I’ll be remembering this madman for a very long time.
The other truly complex performance is turned in by Greg Thompson as Benny, whose possession of the porn cinema is being contested by someone to whom he owes money. When we first meet Benny, he has a bloodied face — the result of an attack by his creditor’s goons, it seems — and Thompson manages from that moment to be a captious, over-sensitive, insulting but authoritative force who can’t ever quite forget that he’s working with idiots. (But why doesn’t he wash his face?)
As one of those idiots, Nathan Juliano (or “Moon”) is particularly successful at being lovingly dim-witted. But it’s never credible that he would spend the whole play in a King Kong outfit or that his buddy Beck (the merely adequate Johnny Garde) would necessarily be wearing a woman’s dress at the same time.
Ryan Bernier as Ruben has the thankless job of trying to make sense of certain implausible plot elements. His anti-Semitism is supposed to be ironic, but mostly comes across as inorganic to the character. Jason Evans directs skillfully, though, and Christen Hailey’s costumes display bloodstains with nice effectiveness.
Anyway, welcome back, Silver Meteor. It’s good that you’re producing again. Your new interior is a notable improvement.
But let’s see some plays with more to offer than Bones.