Midway through world premier of “Derby Day” by Samuel Brett Williams in the 42nd Street Clurman Theater, I wrote in my notebook, “The waitress will get the winning ticket.” And she did.
The deserving waitress in question, Becky, played by the brilliant Beth Wittig, not only wins, she steals the show out from under the three volatile male characters. Becky is the only one not trapped, who knows who she is, who has any dignity.
The Oaklawn Derby is the backdrop for a turgid family drama – three brothers (Jake Silbermann, Jared Culverhouse, Malcolm Madera) show up in a rented room for the races in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which happens to coincide with the funeral of their father. As the liquor flows, so do secrets, lies, and recriminations. The room is trashed, as are all of the relationships.
The violence of Midwestern men has been mined before: by Sam Shepard in “True West” amongst others, and 75 minutes is not enough time for all of the drama piled on awkwardly and absurdly by Williams. He has a good ear for dialogue and character development, but there is no real catharsis here; all three brothers are rotten and rotten in myriad ways. We have a jailbird/alcoholic/gambler/violent brother; a thrice-divorced/ alcoholic/ gambler/ wife-beater/ violent/cheater brother; and a cheater/alcoholic/gambler/violent/patricidal wreck. Not much variety, a lot of predictability. Except for Wittig’s Becky. She is the clear winner.