Boys will be hobos
Written by Clint Jefferies
Directed by Jeffery Corrick
Wings Theatre Company (http://www.wingstheatre.com)
Equity Showcase (Mon., Thu-Sat at 8pm; Sun at 3:30pm; through June 9)
Review by Adam Cooper
The world of Clint Jefferies’ play, The Jocker, is quite an intriguing one. Taking place in the unique setting of a hobo jungle, a shantytown among rail yards, this production explores the vital relationships of suffering, detached men at the height of the Great Depression.
The unglamorized life of a hobo is indeed highly scary and stressful as characters live among the elements, struggling to get undesirable day labor jobs, avoiding dangers such as getting mauled by trains or arrested by railroad cops, and eking out an existence among others who are in the same dire predicament. In this womanless, friendless, family-less world, the hobos turn to each other for survival, sometimes forming emotional or erotic bonds, but more often descending into destructive relationships and altercations.
Homework was done such that the show presents an array of rituals of transient life: chatting and singing around a fire, making food, looking for day jobs, dealing with dangers from within and without, and engaging in both loving and hostile homoerotic encounters. Even the idiosyncratic vernacular of this universe is catalogued in almost list-like fashion during one dialogue exchange.
The production does appear to invoke a certain other play about vaudevillian hobo-like personages that relies heavily on character interactions (including a character named Lucky) and has but a single spare tree as its main set piece. However, unlike that Beckettian masterpiece with transients stuck forever waiting for their needs to be satiated, this show explores how such men turn to each other for solace, companionship, love, and meaning.
Despite energetic efforts to create a window into this largely unknown world, the production falls short of realizing the ambiance of the 1930s, the Great Depression, or even a believable portrait of hobo life. Hampered by contrived, weak plotting; heavily talky, flat dialogue; and misplaced emphasis on beefcake and sexual situations, this production proffers a skewed vision that never rises to its intended dramatic heights.
While the production strives to portray the emotional dependency created by such circumstances between lost men, it did not truly succeed in creating fully defined characters working within complex relationships. For example, the tyrannical, dominant jocker Biloxi Billy (Stephen Cabral) comes across as a stereotypically sadistic carnival barker. Conversely, the youthful punk Nat (Nick Mathews) is conveyed too thinly as a naïve, victimized, angst-ridden waif, even with his manufactured journey toward maturation as nurturing figure to the wounded man-child ‘Bama (Jason Alan Griffin). It is odd that the play is entitled The Jocker since only Biloxi Billy really fits that sadomasochistic description and his character is somewhat peripheral and among the least interesting.
Jeffery Corrick’s flawed direction pushes the overly erotic elements and the sensational and strident aspects of the show, while not nurturing enough dramatic narrative flow and more richly realized characterizations. Perhaps the strongest performance is rendered in Stephen Tyrone Williams’ Lucky, a pivotal supporting role who quietly but menacingly exposes racial, erotic, and violent aspects of this animal-like existence.
William Ward’s set design includes the requisite hobo props like barrels, boxes, rocks, and rubble cast against a barren, fenced-in landscape; yet the pieces did not rise to signify more than a cursory suggestion of time and place. With an emphasis on cute suspenders and overalls, L. J. Kleeman’s costume design contributes more to the idealization, caricature, and sexiness of the production that hold it back from being a more potent and legitimate treatment of its subject matter.
Also featuring Michael Lazar, David Tacheny, and James Bullard.
Copyright 2007 Adam Cooper
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