Dallas — A fidgeting, smiling boy sits in a chair facing us, and explaining that he’s so freaked out because he’s getting out of a tough juvenile delinquency facility, and no parent or relative has arrived to take him home, which means he can’t leave until somebody shows.
Zach Leyva is riveting and touching in the title role of Van Quattro’s one-man play, Tommy Cain, directed by the author for L.I P. Service Productions at the Festival of Independent Theatres. This is the first play that the award-winning, Dallas-based film and stage actor has written for someone besides himself. (Quattro’s one-man show Standing 8 Count was a hit on the local festival circuit a few years ago.)
Tommy has learned the language of his cellmates and guards in “this shithole,” as he refers to the juvie where he’s been confined for running away from home and petty theft. He gets “jumped” and knocked around, and even slapped into solitary confinement during his stay. Still, he’s hopeful there’s life after jail, even if it’s just to “take some uppers and listen to Abbey Road.” This sweet kid is a Beatles fan, and, it turns out, a special kind of mama’s boy.
Dressed in pale khakis and a white t-shirt, Leyva’s dark eyes glisten, as he recalls the rocky upbringing that brought him to this moment. He hangs on to the handful of loving moments with his needy, depressed mother, and cannot forget the daily fear of bodily harm from his violent father.
Over the course of the one-hour performance, Tommy relates early memories, and immediate events, building to the moment at hand. He’s about to get out of jail, but hardly free of the baggage of years of parental neglect and abuse.
We’re touched and disturbed by Tommy’s stories of how his adored mother appealed to her “little man” to admire her legs or help her select a filmy negligee at Target. His eyes tear up and he smiles uncomfortably remembering the combination of happiness and guilt he felt as a child when his mom was washing his back in the tub, and he didn’t want to turn around because he had an erection. This same numbing mix of emotions flushes his face whenever he speaks of his loving, but and clearly disturbed sexually frustrated mother.
Tommy’s relationship with his father is acted out in a kind of one-man dialogue, as Zach takes on the persona and words of his often angry, accusing dad, while defending himself in his own terrified child responses. Perhaps the hardest scenes to watch in this tough and taut production are Leyva’s portrayal of a kid trying to soothe a beast of a parent in order to keep from getting the shit beat out of him.
Warring parents are almost a relief to Tommy, since he sees that as a sign that they’re still talking to each other, and things might get better. We know, though, from the ugly language and accusations that the marriage is even rockier than Tommy can imagine, until the nightmare is made real in a tragic finale.
Leyva’s Tommy is bruised but not broken. His scrap of hopefulness and his schoolboy attempt to make sense of his parents’ abusive behavior, while holding onto the delicate memories of real love and affection, keep the play from being merely shocking. Tommy’s telling his story, he’s figuring it out. He’s survived.
Tommy Cain continues in the following performance blocks:
- 8 p.m. Friday, July 28
- 2 p.m. Saturday, July 29
- 5 p.m. Sunday, July 30
- 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5
Read our interview with director/playwright Van Quattro here
See more info about the 2017 Festival of Independent Theatres schedule here.