By Tom Holehan
Connecticut Critics Circle
“The Salvagers”, A World Premiere at Yale Rep
“The Salvagers”, Harrison David Rivers’ domestic drama about father/son conflicts, is currently having its world premiere at the Yale Repertory Theatre. The play begins with a stunning tableau of falling snow as a young man shoveling a sidewalk stops to pitch some snow into the air while doing some impromptu choreography. The superb lighting here by Nic Vincent and that brief, lovely choreography by Tislarm Bouie remain the highlights of a play that meanders and annoys in equal measure.
Set in Chicago and starting in 2013, “The Salvagers” explores the prickly relationship between a father and son who have been separated by divorce. Boseman Salvage Junior (Taylor A. Blackman) is a troubled 23-year-old who has always resented his father, Boseman Salvage Senior (Julian Elijah Martinez), for reasons that are kept hidden for the majority of the nearly two hour running time (without intermission). When finally revealed you may question, as I did, what the fuss was all about. I won’t reveal the “surprises” here, but suffice it to say that it is nothing that wouldn’t have been dramatized in those “very special” episodes of 1980s television sitcoms.
The play parallels the journey of both men as they start new relationships. Junior gets friendly with the feisty Paulina (Mikayla LaShae Bartholomew) at work and Senior, a locksmith by trade, meets Elinor (McKenzie Chinn) on a job at her home. There is also Junior’s mother, Nedra (Toni Martin), who had him as a teenager and has a secret of her own. None of the parent/child relationships ring true here and while the cast seems willing and able (though clarity of diction and projection issues were a problem throughout the show), the writing seems to stymie them at every turn. The character of Junior, in particular, is consistently annoying when he should be sympathetic. When we finally get to the inevitable reconciliation scene, I was left wondering why and how we actually got there.
With the exception of Vincent’s excellent lighting and some effective sound by Stan Mathabane, other technical elements at Yale disappoint. B. Entsminger’s scenic design is bathed in depressing shades of gray and brown with the many different areas ill-defined. There is also what looks like a huge glacier of snow upstage which serves as an unnecessary and intrusive metaphor (as is the on-the-nose title). The projection design by John Horzen is often grainy and adds little to the proceedings and why are theatres still using smelly herbal cigarettes on stage? There are plenty of options available now. Google it!
In all, however, the play is the one truly lacking at Yale. Mr. Rivers would do well to get back to his writing desk.
“The Salvagers” continues at Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel Street, New Haven, through December 16th. For further information, call: 203.432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.com.