Volume 19 | Issue 24 | Oct. 27 - Nov. 2, 2006 Theater

A wreck without a woman

Written and directed by Neil LaBute
Starring Ed Harris
Through November 19 at
The Public Theater
425 Lafayette St. at Astor Place

Photo by Michal Daniel
“Wrecks” is a one-man forum for the gifted, Oscar-nominated actor Ed Harris, who plays widower Edward Carr, above.

By Scott Harrah

“Wrecks,” the latest work by prolific playwright/screenwriter Neil LaBute, will thrill audiences that love surprise, “shocking” endings. The play’s jarring twist toward the end is loosely based on a classic Greek myth, but even naming it would spoil the story. Those that prefer storylines that are more sober and rooted in reality will simply see the show, which premiered in Ireland last year, as a one-man forum for the gifted, Oscar-nominated actor Ed Harris, who plays widower Edward Carr.

Harris brilliantly portrays Carr as a chain-smoking, middle-aged Midwestern businessman who spends most of the play’s 75 minutes talking about his happy 30 year marriage to “Mary Jo,” who was 15 years his senior and died of cancer. His rambling monologue is basically a loving eulogy for her in which he discusses everything from how they met to their vivacious sex life. Wearing a dark suit, he stands beside her black coffin in a gloomy funeral parlor and gesticulates wildly as he talks about their wonderful life together. Harris truly “owns” this role, and he has never been better. It’s obvious that Edward was a lost soul before he met his wife — he was an orphan as a child and lived in 10 foster homes. Now that his wife is gone, he’s knows there will be a huge void in his life, and he will regress back to the sad orphan he once was. Although the first half of the play contains a lot of mundane chatter about his everyday life, Harris manages to even make dull details about Edward’s used rental-car business sound fascinating. One also must give credit to playwright LaBute for his quick-witted dialogue.

LaBute already established himself as a filmmaker in the late 1990s with his twisted indie film “In the Company of Men” (a story about two misogynist guys plotting to emotionally destroy a deaf woman). In 2002, his 9/11-themed play, “The Mercy Seat,” shocked audiences with its tense story of a businessman (Liev Schreiber) who avoids the attacks on the World Trade Center because he was away from the office having sex with his mistress (Sigourney Weaver) on that horrifying day.

Now playwright/director LaBute is fast becoming the theatrical equivalent of an auteur who specializes in exposing the shortcomings of the American male, and “Wrecks” is yet another tale about a man who’s lost without a woman in his life. Like Eric McCormack’s character in “Some Girls” — a womanizing man completely unable to function after dumping a string of girlfriends — Edward Carr is a man who is almost emasculated without a strong woman to nurture him.

LaBute often goes for shock value which is certainly the case in “Wrecks,” — but he just may be the only modern playwright who writes stories about male attitudes toward women that have an underlying feminist subtext, exposing the true vulnerability of men and their inability to cope without women. Although “Wrecks” has a rather unsavory denouement, Ed Harris gives an outstanding portrayal of LaBute’s signature “man as victim” character.

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