The Gift Theatre. By Marco Ramirez. Dir. Keira Fromm. With John Gawlik, John Kelly Connolly, James D. Farruggio, Cyd Blakewell, Chuck Spencer, Gabriel Franken. 1hr 30mins; one intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
This engaging 2010 work by Marco Ramirez, now a writer for Orange Is the New Black, works far better than it should, with its odd pairing of earthbound drama (old friends who once played together in a locally successful heavy metal band are reunited when one of their members disappears) and touches of folklore and the supernatural (the missing man, a music-theory mad genius who never left his mother's New Jersey basement, may have been working on tones that tapped into the mystic, and not in a benevolent, Van Morrison kind of way).
Tony (John Gawlik), the frontman who abandoned his buddies for the promise of fame that never came, returns to the dead-end town for the wake of his presumed-dead bandmate—and brother—Richie. There, in the old basement, he has it out with the other guys from the old band, Nicky (John Kelly Connolly) and Victor (James D. Farruggio), who never got out and bear a lot of resentment toward Tony, as well as Becca (Cyd Blakewell), the band's biggest fan. This is all pretty standard fare, but it's handled with great care and heart by a cast and director, Keira Fromm, who craft deep, weathered-feeling connections among these familiar characters. And Ramirez has a gift for sparky dialogue; it's tough to resist lines such as one of the guys' description of an oily, preening agent as "this guy, this cock ring of a human being."
The unusual twist arrives in the form of a music historian (Chuck Spencer) who's been corresponding with Richie for some time, and reveals that he was working on finding a combination of sounds that's literally of legend—as the scholar relates, this elusive music is known in folk tales as the song of the "Demon King." Could this have something to do with Richie's disappearance?
As potentially goofy as this turn sounds, Ramirez treats it—and Tony, Nicky, Vic and Becca's reaction to it—with just the right balance of humor, skepticism and seriousness. It becomes a way for these old friends to eradicate old demons of all kinds. Paranormal aspects and all, Broadsword finds real truth in matters of friendship and loyalty.