Can a former lawn-care guy and a formerly rich girl find true love at K-Mart? When a ne’er-do-well from the past reappears, will he screw things up as he once did, or do it a new way? And what’s with sister Flo—is she the most sensible one of this odd lot, or the oddest?
Endless Lawns by Anthony McKay is a cage-match tragicomedy: the kind that has characters in search of exits from entrapments of their own making. It’s staged in a cozy venue that puts you close enough to see the whites of their bloodshot eyes, the Studio Theatre at Pittsburgh Playhouse. The play is a new one, being given its premiere by the Playhouse REP company. Notable features include a cast of very fine actors and a script that memorably uses lawn mowing as a metaphor for the human condition.
You don’t actually see the mowing. It happens offstage, like battles in Shakespeare’s plays. But at the risk of disclosing spoilers, I will mention that in the second act, a major mowing occurs. You hear the far-off whir of the machine, while the characters onstage peer into the distance, gesturing and commenting on the deed.
And—in the context of all that has taken place to that point—I, for one, found this eerie scene to be the part of the play that struck me most deeply and has lingered most hauntingly—more than any of the riotous, liquor-fueled bickering and buffoonery unfolding in full view, of which there is plenty.
Meet the Human Lawn Creatures
Long ago, Anton Chekhov wrote Three Sisters, a play about three young women in their prime who never manage to realize life’s potential. Our modern Anthony, Mr. McKay, has altered the setup. Here we have two sisters in late middle age who’ve already missed the boat. In fact, they have missed a bunch of boats, and the question is whether they’ll be able to flag down one last vessel drifting their way.
Flo (Cary Anne Spear) and Torch (Laurie Klatscher) are the daughters of a famous movie actor, now deceased. We learn that the girls were raised in dad’s palatial mansion in a Connecticut town, one of those enclaves outside New York City where rich investment bankers and A-list celebrities dwell in privileged proximity. Unfortunately, before dad kicked off, he had willed all the loot to his twenty-something mistress, leaving Flo with no cash flow and Torch without so much as a can of lighter fluid.
Since neither had forged a career of her own, the two now live together in a ramshackle shack on the wealthy town’s equivalent of Tobacco Road. But wait: there’s a spark of hope. Torch has taken a job at K-Mart, where her manager turns out to be Ray (Jason McCune)—the same Ray who, back in the day, was a member of the landscaping crew who tended the endless lawns of the palatial estates.
The younger Ray used to wipe the sweat from his brow while longingly ogling the then-young Torch as she lounged poolside in her bikini. Now, time has turned the tables. Ray, ever the diligent worker, is in a position to make an offer that sweet-tempered Torch does not refuse: an engagement ring!
Enter Graham (Mark D. Staley), a human shipwreck in wolf’s clothing. During the girls’ youthful money days, Graham was a regular at the wild parties at the grand home, in the course of which he and Torch had gotten into some serious extracurricular activities on those well-groomed lawns. Now, out of the blue (or, more precisely, out of the Greyhound bus that brought him there), Graham is baaack …
And what about Flo? Depending on how you look at it, she is either the high-spirited guardian angel of her mild-mannered sister or the mean-spirited ringmaster of the whole circle of dysfunction. A failed actress who did not follow in daddy’s footsteps—in part, it seems, because she loathed him—she is now the wisecracking queen of the shack where all roads end.
Behind the Scenes …
So there in a nutshell are the elements of the bedlam that courses through Endless Lawns. Many more details reveal themselves, such as the baby who was put up for adoption 30 years ago(!), Graham’s scheme to retrieve the money that the twenty-something vixen made off with, and the bizarre male bonding that emerges when blue-collar Ray is mixed with desperate dreamer Graham in a mutual broth of booze.
Playwright McKay, a drama professor at Carnegie Mellon University, clearly has put a big dose of his show-biz experience into the characters, along with his personal observation of the nature of the human comedy: Some of the arguments that break out are so realistic they hurt. Endless Lawns is directed by Gregory Lehane, a colleague of McKay’s at Carnegie Mellon. Given the talent the actors bring, Lehane gets them cooking to the utmost.
Does the play have a happy ending? Well, it has an ending, of sorts. It may not send you home whistling a springtime tune. But if you’re up for a four-ring circus—and are willing to entertain the cosmic notion that maybe it’s all about mowing the lawn—give it a try.
Showtimes and Ticket Info
Endless Lawns runs through April 12 at the Pittsburgh Playhouse Studio Theatre, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. For show times and tickets, visit the Playhouse or call 412-392-8000.
Photos by Jeff Swensen
Mike Vargo, a freelance writer and editor based in Pittsburgh, covers theater for Entertainment Central.