AN EARLY HISTORY OF FIRE Send This Review to a Friend
David Rabe is a playwright whose work bears following, and although “An Early History of Fire,” being presented by The New Group, is far from his best, the play still holds interest and gets a reputable staging by a good cast under the direction of Jo Bonney. Basically, the drama is about surmounting class differences, although there are sub-themes as well.
The setting is a town in the Midwest in 1962, and Danny, intelligently played by Theo Stockman, has doubts about himself but aspires to break out of his going-nowhere blue collar status. When he meets Karen, a turbulent college student from an upper class family, he is smitten despite the class barrier. Claire van der Boom, who plays her, is dynamic and sexy in the role. Karen is open to a fling, but Danny takes the situation seriously during a long self-destructive night fueled by alcohol and pot.
This is one of those plays in which everything is mechanically thrashed out, including Danny’s loyalty to his also going-nowhere buddies who expect him to join them in an annual ritual instead of going on a picnic with Karen.
There is also Danny’s father, played assertively by Gordon Clapp, who is a refugee from Hitler’s Germany and who mourns the death of his wife. Standing unused is the upright piano she played, kept as a sacred memento. Not fully developed is the rivalry Danny feels with his father over his late mother in terms of competitive closeness to her. Danny is fed up with his father for not getting a job.
The play’s major interest lies in what happens between Danny and Karen. Their encounter is sometimes funny, sometimes horny and explosive. Van der Bloom is an intriguing, stage-commanding actress. Stockman captures Danny’s bewildered state, given his unfulfilled and undefined aspirations and the gap he must bridge. Although the drama leaves much to be desired, it is nevertheless worth having a look as part of Rabe’s overall work, and also for the performances. At the Acorn, Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-239-6200.