Last fall, local playwright Wayne Rawley gave us Live! From the Last Night of My Life, a gallows-humor roller-coaster ride through the mind of a young man as he works his final graveyard shift at a small-town gas station. At the beginning of the play, he announces he's decided to kill himself once his shift (and the play) is over. The kid is deeply bored and frustrated, but he's so full of bounce and vigor, it's hard to believe he's really going to do himself in.
The characters in Beating Up Bachman, Rawley's newest play (now running at West of Lenin) are cut from similar cloth—a little older, a little more haggard, and maybe a little too familiar with the dark sides of their psyches, but still brimming with energy and always ready for a brawl.
The play centers on the Trucker sisters, three tough, small-town broads facing a whirlwind of emotional and financial disasters: a death in the family, bankruptcy, the appearance of a vampiric ex-wife who wants custody of a child, and some inept, bumbling attempts at domestic violence. (Rawley, like Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, has a gift for writing the sillier side of brutal acts that would be horrifying in real life. And it helps, in the case of Bachman, that the female characters—including grumpy old mama Trucker—are ten times tougher than any of the men.)
Those various storms converge in the home of the eldest sister, Lisa Trucker (played as comically hard-nosed by Lisa Every) and her affably fatalistic, beer-swilling husband Ryan (Ryan Sanders). Their kitchen becomes a revolving door of tragedies, (large and small), schemes, and plots. Every character feels cheated by some other character, and they all feel cheated by life. (Ain't that family!)
As in Live! From the Last Night of My Life, Rawley spins the pathos of his small-town characters into sharp, wise comedy that has a surprisingly buoyant optimism. They're all fuck-ups, but they're likable fuck-ups, and slowly reveal inner lives that are more like technicolor Bollywood dance numbers than the drab hats and faded t-shirts they slouch around in.
The only real trouble with Bachman: It's twice as long as it needs to be. It contains a few diamond-sharp lines and some genuine surprises, but we have to wade through a few acres of unnecessary swampland to get there. Rawley has proven his talent, but Bachman still feels like a work in progress.
It took him more than 10 years to start, put away, then dust off and finish Live! From the Last Night of My Life. (At least, it was a decade between the first workshop-production I saw at ACT and its real world premiere at Theater Schmeater.) That was worth the wait. I look forward to whatever he's got next, whether it's a pared-down, more disciplined version of Bachman, or something else entirely.