Playwright: Brett C. Leonard. At: Goodman Theatre. Tickets: 312-443-3800;. GoodmanTheatre.org; $39-$45. Runs through: March 21
From the start you know Sam's a dead man walking, so profoundly alcoholic he's capable only of drinking himself to death. Why does school teacher Annie stay with him? Brett C. Leonard's extremely solemn play, The Long Red Road, juxtaposes Sam and his non-drinking brother, Bob. Philip Seymour Hoffman has directed this world premiere with sensitive understatement and virtually no high theatrics, developing a deliberate but unflagging pace. You may not care for the characters, but the integrity of the performances by the six-person cast is riveting, led by British heartthrob Tom Hardy as Sam in his American acting debut.
The play shifts between Sam and Annie's shabby South Dakota flat and the Kansas farm where Bob lives with Sandra and Tasha, the latter who is almost 14. It's late in Act I before Leonard connects the two settings with a shock. Spoiler alert: Nine years earlier a drunk Sam smashed the family car, killing his infant daughter and destroying his wife's legs. Sam survived and fled, leaving Bob to care for his wife and surviving daughteryes, Sandra and Tasha. Sam's self-loathing and guilt are pitiful and debilitating. Only in an Act II scene with Tashawhom Sam hasn't seen in nine yearsdoes Sam reveal a tenderness which may be why Annie loves him.
Prior to that, however, Act II monologs by Bob and Sam supply all Act I's missing exposition, including a sibling rivalry predating Sam's drinking days. Although effectively delivered, these speeches come from left field and overstate what needs to be known. Indeed, Leonard restates his theme three times when once would be sufficient. Sam and Annie use verbal abuse to reach orgasm: Sam needs to feel debased. Annie recites a mantra for her school kids: "I will be happy, I will be loved, I deserve good." We get it. Sam openly confesses his unworthiness in his Act II monolog. We know. Other Act II complications include Bob and Tasha's twisted relationship, Bob's obscure dialog about things Dad did in the barn and a Faulkner-like barn-burning to end things. Leonard squeezes too much onto the plate and some of it's forced.
Eugene Lee's vast rustic-looking unit set fills the deep thrust stage and covers the lighting grid with wooden planks and struts to simulate a barn roof, solely so that smoke may billow through in the final moments. It's massive overkill for the needs of this domestic drama.Read more story below....
With dirty hair, a three-day beard, tattoos and a stained undershirt, Hardy looks and moves like a hollow, wounded man. His southwestern accent contrasts with Bob's Midwestern twang, but is convincing. Hardy submerges himself in the ensemble completed by Greta Honold ( Annie ) , Chris McGarry ( Bob ) , Fiona Robert ( Tasha ) , Katy Sullivan ( Sandra ) and Marcos Akiaten ( Clifton, the local bartender ) .