Rapp Wrestles With American Heartland

“Do circus ponies poop at the parade?” he replies.

“I don’t know,” she says innocently. “Do they?”

There are many appealing things about American Sligo, provided you don’t mind sick humor or a desperate Heimlich maneuver attempted with a dust buster. Mr. Rapp holds up a fun-house mirror to an America stoned on pharmaceuticals and lousy TV. (Crazy Train, a man who’d like a little sullen peace in his life, smashes the family’s TV set to bits with a baseball bat.) The black comedy’s underbelly of crude hopelessness rings dejectedly true. There’s a horribly touching scene late in the play when the vindictive ex-con destroys Aunt Bobbie for sport. What harm did her love and sweet ignorance ever do to do to him? She raised him.

Though it’s true that all playwrights make it up as they go along, Mr. Rapp lets it show far too much in American Sligo’s convenient denouement. He pushed his luck when the resentful younger brother, Kyle, announced earlier that he’s blogging a serialized fiction about the Nature of Violence in the Average American Home (“or is a bad seed simply a bad seed?”). But the revelation that no-good Victor is really a loving and kind sweetheart underneath is special pleading, and his sudden salty tears are of no use to us (or him) The late-breaking news that Kyle doesn’t really hate him—but hero-worships him instead—is too blatantly at odds with their fraternal war.

Then again, the seduction scene between suicidal Victor and Kyle’s teen girlfriend feels uncomfortably like an improvised afterthought about shoddy, vomiting reality and a lost chick living in a mushroom Magic Kingdom fantasy. The end of the play in graphic violence and Crazy Train’s heart attack in the ring is, well, an awesomely convenient end.

Alas, American Sligo loses focus, blowing it on the last lap.

Perhaps that’s because we miss the wacko heartland family group at their last supper, with the batty Aunt Bobbie at the helm, seeing the best in the worst of all possible worlds. And that’s why Adam Rapp, the Olympic medalist in the emerging playwright race, ultimately misses the gold.