Whatever else it may have done on the Chicago stage, Brett Neveu’s late-night play reportedly offered the spectacle of some serious live violence. It’s rare to see a play where the characters have at each other with crowbars, and rarer still to see one that gives them less of a reason to do so. The premise is simple: Three brothers, separated for a time, gather in an abandoned factory for a game they’ve always played, which involves nothing more or less than taking turns beating the shit out of the other two. On this particular evening, Rick (Schine) has invited along his crusty boss (Goldring), providing grist for a feeble Dirty Harry parody and holding aloft the prospect of mutual growth.
The immediacy of the stage might have saved The Earl, which would clearly benefit from shock laughter. (Indeed, this is the original cast, whose delivery often seems timed for audience guffaws.) On screen, however, the four-men-in-a-warehouse routine has already been whacked to death. If Reservoir Dogs grounded itself in vivid characters and dialogue, The Earl remains willfully obscure. Denuded to a Pinteresque idiom—the men speak in code, referring to acts of violence by numbers (“You’re going to regret using your ‘one’?”)—the scenario becomes both precious and pointless. Chicago filmmaker Sikora also subscribes to the fallacy that aggressive cutting distracts from the staginess, but the opposite is true. The net effect is to bludgeon the viewer with artifice while never settling on a point of view.