Ian McRae's "The Alamo" at the Ruskin Group Theatre has deft dialogue, vivid characterizations and resonant emotionalism.
In fact, McRae's premiere is a solid effort with the potential to become a great play, if not for divergent plots that seem markedly disjointed at times. That's ironic, because "Alamo" started out as a 20-minute solo show before being expanded into this character-driven two-act piece.
John Iacovelli's protean set beautifully accommodates the play's various locales. The primary setting is the Alamo, the funky Brooklyn bar run by Munce (Tim True) and his wife, Carmen (Eileen Galindo), a couple on the verge of bankruptcy. Gentrification is transforming the neighborhood, and Munce and Carmen have hopes of luring a younger crowd with live music and spoken word nights. However, the bar's regulars, including ex-cop Joey (Bobby Costanzo), retired sanitation worker Dominic (John Lacy) and boozy diabetic Tick (Jack Merrill), are dismayed by the forces of change.
A sense of loss is a constant with the play's battered souls: Munce's hopes of a sports career ended when he blew out his knee; Joey, the interstitial narrator of the piece, still mourns the loss of his kid brother in Vietnam; Mary (Milica Govich), who holds an old grudge against Munce and Carmen, lost her first-responder husband on 9/11.
When Carmen hires Mary's daughter Micaela (Kelsey Griswold, alternating with Julia Arian) to paint the bar, her old feud with Mary combusts anew. Deep into the second act, the abruptly introduced character of Claudine (Nancy Georgini) learns her entire marriage has been based on a lie.
Director Kent Thompson has a knack with actors, and McRae provides these exceptional performers with plenty of "actor's moments" — sometimes to a fault. A case in point is Joey's fraught and steamy interaction with Carmen, which takes up a large part of Act Two. Costanzo and Galindo are terrific in the scene, but that doesn't make its inclusion seem any less random.
Among the strained story points: Mary's reluctance to tell Micaela that they are part owners of the Alamo, and Micaela's refusal to accept the "blood money" due her from her father's 9/11 payout.
These criticisms aren't meant to sound damning. McRae is a fresh and dynamic playwright who writes from the heart, and who evokes a heartfelt response from us in turn. "The Alamo" lacks a bit of discipline and synthesis, but it's worthy of attention.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Where: Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica
When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; ends March 31
Information: (310) 397-3244, www.ruskingrouptheatre.com
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
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