Theater review: `Wreckage’

Opened May 11, 2009 at The Boxcar Playhouse

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Laura Jane Coles offers a sponge bath to a young man she found on the beach played by Eric Kerr in Caridad Svich’s Wreckage, a Crowded Fire Theater Company production at The Boxcar Playhouse in San Francisco. Photos by Bryan Wolf

Sex, power, poetry adrift in compelling `Wreckage’

The endless cycle of innocence lost, power gained and cynicism born receives an intriguingly poetic treatment in the world premiere of Caridad Svich’s Wreckage, the latest production from Crowded Fire Theatre Company.

Jeff Buckley’s cover of “Lost Highway” sets the mournful tone as lights come up on two boys entangled in the sand of beach. With smatterings of blood on their bodies and makeup adorning their eyes, the boys awake to distant memories of a previous existence while a faceless newscaster drones on about the dead bodies of boys found on a beach.

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After kissing and agreeing that they are connected in some way, the boys part ways. The older (Eric Kerr) is drawn to the sleek beach house occupied by an elegant woman (Laura Jane Coles) and her husband (David Sinaiko). The younger (Detroit Dunwood), having been abandoned by the older, ends up in the “care” of a pimpish voyeur called “Nurse” (Lawrence Radecker), who promptly dresses the boy in women’s clothing and sells his services on the boardwalk.

The plot, if you can call it that, tracks the parallel lives of the boys. The older is called “daughter” and used as a plaything by the older woman, who uses the boy to taunt and titillate her husband. The younger learns the ways of the world to survive on the lowest level of “civilized” life.

And it’s all a framework on which director Erin Gilley builds an attractive production that features some moody, well-produced video projections (by Wesley Cabral) and an appropriately versatile set by Evren Odcikin that contrasts the modernity of the beach house, the grittiness of the sandy beach and the vandalism-scarred boardwalk. Tim Szostek’s lights, especially in the beach house, capture the fleetingly hot and cold sexual tension roiling inside.

Marc Blinder’s sound design adds another layer of lyricism to the proceedings, especially when playwright Svich allows her characters to break into song – one from the underworld of the piers and the other from the erotically charged beach house.

Svich’s dialogue, with its neo-Shakespearean rhythms, is stylish and appealing. A beautiful turn of phrase lands often enough to keep the audience aware of the playwright as poet, which also creates a certain distance from the action, which remains at a cool remove for most of the play’s 75 minutes.

And that’s my only problem with Wreckage – it’s a visually appealing exercise in poetic drama that uses fancy language to keep from getting too specific. We hover in a pseudo-reality of archetypes and emotional shadows. Our world is recognizable, but we’re never allowed to fully engage, even though the actors handle the dialogue well and generate some human heat within the chill of this lovely Wreckage.


Crowded Fire’s Wreckage by Caridad Svich continues through June 6 at The Boxcar Playhouse, 505 Natoma St. (between Sixth and Seventh streets). Tickets are $15-$25. Visit for information.


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