Mark Adair-Rios, Ronnie Marmo and Michael Blum in "The Late Henry… (Matt Richter )
Sam Shepard’s “The Late Henry Moss” was first produced in 2000. It’s taken more than a decade for the play to receive its Los Angeles premiere.
That may be for obvious reasons. Although director David Fofi’s current staging at Theatre 68 is often inspired, the play remains a motivationally murky muddle that falls short of the mystical weightiness it so obviously intends.
The action is set in a desolate New Mexico shack, delineated with shabby specificity by scenic designer Joel Daavid. There, viciously bickering brothers Earl (Ronnie Marmo) and Ray (Michael Blum), have gathered to mark the passing of their alcoholic wastrel father, Henry (Gary Werntz).
All are familiar Shepard archetypes, especially the boozily abusive Henry, who is lying dead in an upstage bed while his sons discuss, among other fractious subjects, whether the old man is actually starting to smell or not.
Whatever his present stage of decomposition, Henry has certainly been a lifelong stinker, at least metaphorically speaking. In fact, his knee-jerk abuse -- especially one long-ago explosion of particular violence -- has left both his sons emotionally crippled.
Seen in flashback, Henry is attended by his sexy, shamanistic girlfriend, Conchalla (Ivet Corvea), and his nurturing neighbor, Esteban (Mark Adair-Rios). There’s also a hapless Taxi Driver (Joe Dalo) whom Ray tracks down to question about the circumstances of Henry’s death.
Rios and Dalo’s gently hapless characters provide welcome comic relief from Shepard’s high-decibel dialogue, which seems to derive from the echolaliac’s school of playwrighting, in which characters endlessly repeat -- make that shout -- the last line that another has said, an annoying tic that fails to fill the play’s frequent gaps of logic.
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“The Late Henry Moss,” Theatre 68, 5419 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 4. $25. (323) 960-5068. www.plays411.com/henrymoss. Running time: 2 hours.