As part of its "Matthew David Barton" Festival, Alamo Theater presented Barton's Boxing Between Friends. The play's aspirations were clear enough: take some Beckett, some McGuffin (Hitchcock's meaningless word for the item or event that set the plot in action), some characters who may or may not be what they appear, and mix it all together. That the play was a near-complete failure, however, was not the fault of Beckett, Hitchcock, or McGuffin.
A mysterious box has arrived at the apartment shared by Bob (Barton) and Dex (Robert Baumgardner), with a note by the anonymous sender to deliver it unharmed according to instructions, in exchange for half a million dollars (there's the McGuffin). Bob and Dex are roommates of different personality types who have protracted conversations, sometimes at cross-purposes, wherein what little important information is revealed gets repeated and rehashed, and little character is developed (paging Mr. Beckett).
Bob is more than willing to buy into the box, its mysterious origin, and his share of the half-million. Dex is more high-strung, nervous, a non-stop talker who is full of doubts - and that's before he even gets involved with the box. Then come the worries about the risks involved, possible prison time, etc. etc. etc. Plus, of course, his terrible track record with women. Bob enjoys provoking Dex, but after a couple of thrusts and parries, they are the only ones interested. Dramatically, their byplay is merely treading not very deep water.
Enter Suze (Jennifer Restak) at Bob's behest, but without the friend of hers Dex has the hots for, and whom Bob promised Dex that Suze would bring. (Guess whether he even asked her. Go on, guess.) Repetition is not character development, though, and with all the character conflict and pages of conversation, the situation fails to become interesting.
The one bright spot was Robert Baumgardner as Dex. His character didn't make much sense, but he was able to make unmoored anxiety interesting to watch. Suze is a thankless role, but at least Restak had some vibrancy in her loud stockings and rhinestone glasses (costumer uncredited). Bob, however, was a blank character, and as a performer author Matthew Barton added nothing. (Directing an actor-author can be tricky, but director Edmund Lingan has worked with Barton before.)
In its way, the set (scenic design by John Gallarello) had more personality than the play - how long has Dex had that sofa? Where'd he get it from, his parents? Goodwill? Ian Marshall's fight direction made for some interesting if not character-believable fisticuffs. The play was well-lit (lighting uncredited), but even the Northern Lights couldn't have made sense out of these guys, that box, and what it eventually was revealed to contain. At the end of the play, it turned out that Bob and Dex have been betraying each other for years, and Bob is going to split. At last, something interesting! But way too little, and far too late. (See also Home.)
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Copyright 2001 David Mackler