The problem with the production of Julie Marie Myatt’s My Wandering Boy, directed by Bill Rauch and given its world premiere on South Coast Rep’s Segerstrom Stage, is that it strays too much from an otherwise great script.
It starts as a Where’s Emmett? mystery: a homeless guy finds a pair of boots and a backpack that presumably belong to Emmett. Was it suicide?, we wonder. Was it homicide? Did he lose his reason?
In short, what could make an otherwise exemplary teenager vanish?
Emmett’s absence is palpable; it’s that palpable absence with which Myatt wants us to identify, if not to judge. We do, on both counts.
We learn about him through what Detective Howard (Charlie Robinson) uncovers up at the behest of Emmett’s parents, Liza Boudin (Elizabeth Ruscio) and Wesley (Richard Doyle).
We learn from boyhood chum, Rooster Forbes (John Cabrera), from homeless guy John (Brent Hinkley), and from sometime lovers Sally Wright (Purva Bedi) and Miranda Stevens (Veralyn Jones) that Emmett was charismatic and easy to talk to; that people instantly wanted to help him, to cover for him, to protect him, even though he betrayed the friendship, hospitality, and trust he received with his errant, inexplicable ways.
Ah, the double edged-sword of insouciance & unaccountability.
Through these series of interview-vignettes that Detective Howard conducts, we learn that what’s at stake is not so much that Emmett’s a scoundrel, a rake, a bum (he is, but that’s not the point) but that the people he impacted wanted to believe in him because he had what they didn’t have: freedom, spontaneity, and the ability to be happy in his own skin.
Thus the quest for Emmett becomes a quest to Know Thyself. Hence the "My" in the title. Emmett's the catalyst of self-discovery, Howard’s the agent.
We see Detective Howard, stuck in a loveless marriage, dissed by John as a rental cop. Miranda gets lonely, goes to a bar where she meets him, and ends up getting preggers. Sally picks him up in a post office. The mother wants part of the two million dollars he inherited from his grandmother. The father lurches from one pique of impotent rage to another.
The problem is, while Myatt tightly focused her script. Rauch did not tightly focus his production. As a result the production wanders.
The key scene was when Detective Howard realized that his search for his quarry was actually a search for himself.
That’s why Howard was the key figure of the story: his forensic work was more emotional than material. His investigations got the others to think about themselves as well.
But the transition from mystery to drama was not so much subtle as sloppy. As a result the resolution fell flat.
The performances were good but they weren’t synchronized. Emmett’s absence created a vortex around a void that made dramatic but not production sense.
Performances are Tuesday, 7:30 PM, Wednesday – Saturday, 8 PM, Saturday and Sunday 7:30, and Sunday at 7:30. The play runs until May 6. Tickets are $28-60. The Theatre is located at 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. For more information, call (714) 708-5555 or visit www.scr.org.