Review: The Late Henry Moss (Unit 102 Actor’s Company)

Henry MossToronto’s Unit 102 Actor’s Company presents Sam Shepard’s play The Late Henry Moss

There is a certain style of American theatre that has its roots in plays like Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman or David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. I like to call them the “men have feelings, but can only express them through yelling and punching” style of plays. The Late Henry Moss by Sam Shepard fits very comfortably in that style.

It’s a story about two brothers who are dealing with the death of their father, and their relationship (or lack thereof) with each other. Half of it is told through cold, crisp dialogue and the other half through dream-like moments where the characters exist in a half time and space; not quite fully in the past, and not quite fully in the present either.

I realize that I’m ranting a bit about the style, but I was frustrated at a lot of the content of this play. From the “why didn’t you stop me” conversation about spousal abuse to the over-sexualized magical Native women, I found myself rolling my eyes more than a few times at some of the situations which ultimately made me sad because the cast was so good at what they were doing.

The leads–David Lafontaine as the very neurotic younger brother Ray, with Mark Paci as the older brother Earl–had so many real and powerful moments between them especially when they were arguing, or disagreeing about everything. Anthony Ulc was compelling as their father (the titular Henry Moss), he pulled my eyes toward him with every movement and bellow. At no point during the play did I ever like the characters of Ray, Earl or Henry but nonetheless I thought Lafontaine, Paci, and Ulc did such a terrific job humanizing these broken people.

My biggest moments of joy came from the secondary characters; an unnamed taxi driver (Michal Eisner) and a neighbour, Esteban (Matthew Gouveia). Eisner’s bit with Lafontaine was one of the true laugh-out-loud moments of the show. It finishes the first act with a great story filled with hilarious moments of self aggrandizement.

Gouveia’s Esteban is the least broken character in the play and saves it from becoming too dark and morose. Gouveia made me care, because his character did. When the brothers were at their loudest, and angriest, I couldn’t help but spend some time looking out for Esteban even if he was still hiding behind the refrigerator.

Beyond the performances, the details in the beautiful set (designed by Adam Belanger) make you feel like you’re very much inside the home of The Late Henry Moss. Scott Walker’s direction lets the characters get incredibly physical; they fight each other with such intensity that I recoiled a few times, not because I was scared, or because it was loud, but because I felt the blows as they landed, and the emotions behind them.

This play does have very many good parts, I just wish I liked the whole that that those parts made. Unfortunately, it didn’t really appeal to me but that’s more because of the fact that, at its heart, The Late Henry Moss is just another play where “men have feelings, and can only express them by yelling and punching.”

Details:

  • The Late Henry Moss is playing at The Assembly Theatre (1479 Queen St. W.) until January 20th.
  • Shows run Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 pm with a 2:00pm matinee on Saturday and Sunday
  • General Admission is 25$, Students and Arts-workers pay 17$, and the Matinee is 20$ or Pay What You Can at the door.
  • For more details visit the Unit 102 website

Photo of David Lafontaine, Matthew Gouveia, and Mark Paciby Nola Martin