Theatre West has revived Jim Beaver’s play “Verdigris,” a hit for the company 30 years ago, about a young man’s absorption into an offbeat Oklahoma family in the summer of 1972.
In his program note, Beaver, who’s also an actor best known these days for TV's "Deadwood," "Supernatural" and "Justified," credits his entire career to this tragicomedy.
Mark W. Travis directed the 1985 production and is again at the helm. Sheila Shaw, who was in the original cast, has graduated to the central role as obstreperous, paraplegic widow Margaret Fielding.
From her wheelchair at the center of her house (a charmingly mouldering dollhouse of a set by Jeff G. Rack), Margaret bullies and picks on an army of misfits who manage her and her many home businesses.
So colorful are these folks that if they weren’t modeled on real people, they could be mistaken for a grab bag of gothic family stereotypes churned out by a Tennessee Williams or Sam Shepard character generator.
Beaver plays Margaret’s drunken brother, Jockey Farrell. Two good-natured, slow-witted siblings named Ben Bo and May Bee (Dylan Vigus and Corinne Shor) tend to Margaret’s every shrill demand.
Sinister, twitchy Farley (Ian Lerch) lurks around waiting to push her chair to the beauty parlor. Margaret’s son, Carl (David Goldstein, perpetually exasperated), wants to move her to a nursing home and stops in frequently with his friendly wife (Chloé Rosenthal, over the top) to harangue her on the topic.
To sort everybody out we have our narrator, Richard Muldoon (Adam Conger), a stand-in for the young playwright, who applies for a job doing odd jobs for Margaret and immediately endears himself to the quirky household. A drama student at the local college, Richard has an ambitious, nagging girlfriend (Katie Adler), who finds his enthrallment with Margaret disconcerting.
Although Richard often pauses the action to indulge in confidential exposition, he’s never entirely able to explain what he likes so much about Margaret. She’s lively and dogged, with an amusingly blunt and unapologetic attitude, but her treatment of her minions is so malicious that she is often hard to like.
Richard would clearly love to be the hero who bustles each character to a happy ending, like Flora Poste in “Cold Comfort Farm.” Beaver doesn’t let him, restrainedly dispensing plausibly bittersweet arcs instead. Yet the play outstays its welcome, the ending prolonged by an odd reluctance to say goodbye, as though the playwright is still struggling toward closure.
Verdigris is the blue-green rust that forms on copper or brass; this play has developed maybe too thick a coating of it in 30 years.
“Verdigris.” Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 19. $20-$25. (323) 851-7977 or www.theatrewest.org. Running time: 3 hours.