Review: `Coronado’

Opened March 22, 2008, SF Playhouse

Stacy Ross and Louis Parnell try a new form of barroom therapy in Coronado. Photos by Zabrina Tipton

Lehane’s noirish thriller offers pulpy delights
three stars Time-bending mystery

If Dennis Lehane didn’t happen to have a brother who happened to be a New York actor, then Coronado, the play, might never have happened.

The best-selling crime author could easily have continued down the path of writing novels and having those novels — such as Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone — turned into high-profile movies. But during a visit from his brother and some of his actor friends, Lehand got inspired to write for the theater.

He ended up turning his short story “Until Gwen” (published in Atlantic Monthly) into the play Coronado, now having its West Coast premiere at SF Playhouse under the direction of Susi Damilano and with a first-rate cast of local actors.

Under the neon glow of Bill English’s barroom set, Lehane’s story unspools as a triptych of duets and trios all fueled by lust for, variously, alcohol, “illicit sexual congress” (as one character puts it) and a $3-million diamond.

In one corner a man (Will Springhorn Jr.) and a woman (Kate Del Castillo) are practically devouring each other until her husband (Phillip K. Torretto) shows up. In another corner a psychiatrist (Louis Parnell) is breaking all the rules by meeting his patient (Stacy Ross) for a drink and quite possibly more. And at the bar, a father (English) has just picked up his son (Chad Deverman) from prison, and now that they’ve disposed of the prostitute the dad got the son as a “happy release” present, they have some unfinished business to settle.

Alert viewers will start to pick on shared themes among the trio of stories, and even the not-so-alert among the audience will know something is up by the end of Act 1 when it becomes clear that everyone on the stage is related in some way or another.

Lehane is being tricky with time, and that’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of the first act — the relationships start to become clear, but the time element remains dodgy. Then, in the second act, the mystery abates and we just get a whole lot of story — too much, really. The story turns pulpy, and though the tension drains (even with the revelation of not one but two murders), there’s enjoyment in Lehane’s sheer force of storytelling.

This would all be so much noirish dramatizing if it weren’t for a couple key performances that connect with something deeper among these flailing characters doing desperate things and paying the consequences.

Ross can make anything interesting, and her wonderfully messed up character provides ample opportunity for juicy drunk scenes, blackmail and soulful regret. Her final scene, which is sort of gimmicky in a dramatic sense, actually works because Ross gives it the necessary emotional weight.

Also great is Deverman (above with English), as a young man who can’t escape the wicked influence of his father figure (English in a sly, creepy performance that underplays the arch villainy). We see his post-prison desperation, but we also get glimpses of a happier life he could have had with his girlfriend, Gwen (Rebecca Schweitzer). There’s real pain in his performance, and when he has to pull off the trick of being in two time periods simultaneously, he bridges the gulf seamlessly.

The various mysteries don’t end up having much impact when they’re resolved, but there’s a nice little dramatic flair at play’s end, which means Lehane might turn out to be a showman after all.

Coronado might turn out to constitute the Dennis Lehane theater festival in its entirety. Though the play was well received in New York in 2005, the author will likely be otherwise engaged. Word on the street is that his novel Shutter Island will be a movie directed by Martin Scorsese. Oh, and the story that inspired the play has also been optioned for the big screen.

Coronado continues through April 26 at SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter St., San Francisco. Tickets are $38. Call 415-677-9596 or visit

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