Theo Stockman and Gordon Clapp; Photo credit: Monique Carboni
An Early History of Fire is David Rabe's first new play in a decade, but it feels dated. A show can take place in 1962 and still offer new insights on the time or tell a fresh story, but this is a coming-of-age story we've all seen before, and not a particularly engaging one.
Danny (Theo Stockman) lives in a "medium sized town in the Midwest" with his German-immigrant father (Gordon Clapp). He is loyal to his best friends Jake (Dennis Staroselsky) and Terry (Jonny Orsini), but lately he's been spending time with a girl from the richest part of town, Karen (Claire van der Boom), who reads Salinger and Kerouac and goes to college on the east coast. Most of the play takes place on the night Danny is going to meet Karen's parents for the first time. He waits for his father to come home with the suit from the cleaners, and when he doesn't, we have to spend another chunk of time while he figures out what to do (eventually, he borrows Jake's fathers suit). With long scenes like this one, the play drags at over two-and-a-half hours and never seems to know where it wants to go. We do get a sense of struggles of being a young adult at that time, nostalgic for the past and scared and hopeful for the future--come to think of it, not much has changed in 50 years--but Rabe never goes anywhere with that as the conversations go around in circles. The cast is fine, but they don't have the passion required to make even the most heated scenes pick up steam. Erin Darke, in the small role of Shirley, Terry's ex, manages to hint at the depth behind her seemingly flighty character. Perhaps the play should have spent some more time on her.