"Two to the Head" *** 1/2
Presented by Road Less Traveled Productions
Continues through May 15 in New Phoenix Theatre, 95 N. Johnson Park. 629-3069
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the DiCarlo Baiting Team.
Mark and Tom DiCarlo, the furiously feuding brothers of Darryle Schneider's "Two to the Head" curse, taunt and mock one another in a nonstop flow of invective and sarcasm, accompanied by enough macho pushing, poking, wapping and shoving to entertain the troops at a biker's reunion.
It's Cain and Abel all over again, the biblical antagonists now transported to a Buffalo auto shop where axle grease replaces farmer's dust and the "sacrificial" animal is a dog named Oscar.
This is the Buffalo-based playwright's first play, and it is a terrific piece of theater. Schneider has fashioned a smart, fast-moving drama that seethes with passages of bitter ridicule that give the play its brutal, hurtful humor. Schneider's command of "garage talk" is superb, perfectly catching the rhythm and phrasing of these two hard-headed working-class guys.
But Schneider is not content with mere symmetrical head-banging no matter how convincing. He created Finch to balance things. Finch is a great mediating character whose tempered comments bring reason into this picture of brotherly rancor. A typical remark from him is, "Finch does what Finch has to do." He's a kind of wise, all-knowing father figure who throws into relief the brothers' irrational brinkmanship. He even manages to humanize Mark's implacable wife, Anne DiCarlo, who, exhibiting few qualms, is having a merry old affair with Tom.
David Rzeszutek as the hard-working Mark and David Avery as his cast-about brother Tom made a brilliant acting pair. Rzeszutek gave Mark a compelling sense of marginally controlled mania that bursts out at critical times into violent explosions (which is sometimes hilarious, as when he furiously rips a Styrofoam cup into pieces in 10 seconds flat). Avery created a more openly baiting character who goes at his brother with a marvelous array of rude gestures and ripping sarcasms. Both were fabulous, but Rzeszutek came close to making his role into a tour de force of a man on the brink of mental collapse.
Enough good things cannot be said about Dee Lamonte Perry's Finch. He gave this character an ambling, beguiling charm that comes from his astute combining of a casual exterior manner with glints of evidence that here is a mind always on the watch.
It didn't seem that Susanna Breese had yet completely relaxed into the role of Anne on opening night Thursday. But still she rendered the part with a terse brittleness that seems just right for this narrow, desensitized woman.
Director Scott Behrend did a great job of keeping Schneider's heady rush of words flowing. As impressive was his thoughtful handling of the action, which if let loose might have descended into stage chaos where bouts of pushing and shoving becomes a form of dramatic slapstick.
Schneider's otherwise well-wrought play has to stretch at moments for a rationale for some of the action. The final scene is an emotional seesaw, including as it does implications of both reconciliation and vengeance. In the end, it made me wonder if I had not badly misread the psyches of these battling brothers.
"Two to the Head" is still a marvelous play from a fresh new voice on the Buffalo theater scene. The play is an exhilarating close to Road Less Traveled Productions' two-play season at the New Phoenix.