Theater Review: 'An Early History of Fire' -- 2 stars
An Early History of Fire
"An Early History of Fire," the first new play in over a decade by David Rabe - best known for gritty dramas like "Hurlyburly" and "Streamers" - is a major letdown.
Structured as the kind of nostalgic coming-of-age story you've heard countless times before, the long-winded and repetitive play takes a close look at Danny (Theo Stockman), a college dropout who still lives with his well-meaning, working-class immigrant dad (Gordon Clapp).
According to the program notes, they live in a "medium-sized town in the Midwest."
While there is hardly any real action, the play's driving point is the arrival of Karen (Claire van der Boom), a rich, sexy college student who insists on showing off her appreciation of J.D. Salinger and pot - and declaring that the nightmare of 1950s complacency is over.
By the end, after Danny has lost Karen and alienated his father, he finds himself suddenly motivated to be a writer and resolves to win Karen back.
Although Karen's speeches contain hints of excitement, the play is hopelessly cluttered with extraneous characters. So many characters, in fact, that one was apparently excised during preview performances.
Director Jo Bonney does her best to elicit some dramatic tension. Stockman, who has previously appeared on Broadway in "Hair" and "American Idiot," convincingly vents his paralyzing frustration.
Although van der Boom registers a strong impression as Claire, Lily Rabe, the playwright's daughter, was originally slated to play the role but she withdrew to star in the upcoming Shakespeare in the Park revival of "As You Like It." Good choice on her part.
If you go: "An Early History of Fire" plays through May 26 at Theater Row. 410 W. 42nd St., 212-239-6200, telecharge.com.