Dallas — You’d be forgiven if you confused playwright Samuel D. Hunter with that other famous Sam of American theater. Hunter shows himself to be proud heir to Sam Shephard’s legacy of dysfunctional families grappling with dashed hopes and the leftovers of the American dream, but with enough humor to keep total devastation at bay.
Resolute Theatre Project’s standout production of Hunter’s The Few has taken over Amy’s Studio of Performing Arts in North Dallas. The play is directed by the accomplished Seth Johnston, who has over the past few months starred in several edgy works by Tennessee Williams, Harold Pinter, and Sam Shepard, as well as directed Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot for the Fort Worth Community Arts Center.
When entering the space, the audience is instantly transported to the late 1990s. Sitting atop the desks, cathode-ray tube computer monitors emit their sickly pale green glow. There’s an industrial-size plastic container of Red Vines licorice. A single-extension landline rotary telephone indicates that this is the office of neither a mover nor a shaker. The play is punctuated by people calling in with their personal ads. Early on, the play lets us know it’s specifically set in the heady dog days of August 1999. And if you don’t know what any of these words mean, ask your parents.
The exquisitely curated set is thanks to Dayna S. Fries’ properties design and Johnston’s set design. This team has transformed Amy’s Studio into the rundown headquarters of The Few, a once-thriving niche newspaper for long-haul truck drivers that has transitioned over the years into mostly personal ads of people looking for love.
Joshua Hahlen’s expert sound design evokes the exact down-on-its-luck nostalgia that the play requires. The preshow music and the songs used to transition between scenes — classic rock and country tunes from Procol Harum and Josefus to Linda Rondstadt and Dolly Parton — is as well curated as the set and props. And using a wired speaker onstage was a brilliant decision: it’s difficult to fake the fuzz and buzz reverb that cuts out and crackles because of a loose connection.
The play opens as Bryan, who’s run out of places to go, returns to the newspaper’s trailer office located just off some random interstate exit in northern Idaho after disappearing four years ago. Danny Macchietto is gripping as the passive-aggressive Bryan, intent on returning the newspaper to its former glory as a lifeline for long-haul drivers.
Lindsay Mayward is nicely cast as the no-nonsense QZ, who has spent the last four years trying to get the newspaper to earn a profit by exploiting the loneliness of the truckers. She easily convinces the audience that she’s lost the strength to be vulnerable. Jake Pierce Blakeman plays the endearingly unsure Matthew. He perfectly captures the awkwardness of QZ’s 19-year-old assistant. Equally strong are the uncredited actors whose personal ads fill the office answering machine.
Branson White’s lighting design works well in the space. Particularly effective is the red light washing over the walls as the audience enters, as if cast from a roadside neon sign or the taillights of a semi. Though the costuming is uncredited, everything appeared believable for these characters.
The play powerfully depicts lost and lonely people, both those onstage as well as the disembodied voices of the personal ads, who are searching for some kind of honest human connection. The challenges of finding that connection, though, is further complicated by the mediation of technology and its faulty promise, which is made all the more dire with the dreaded Y2K bug looming on the horizon. The loose connection of the stereo speaker, then, speaks volumes as a potent metaphor.
Resolute Theatre Project’s production, running at 90 minutes with no intermission, makes few false moves. The actors shine as they bring Hunter’s tight script alive, and the technical aspects show a devotion to detail; it makes fine use of a venue that is not designed for theatrical productions.