Darryl Schneider, playwright-in-residence at Road Less Traveled Productions, loves to walk. Particularly when working on a new play, Schneider admits to hitting the streets, treading through Delaware Park maybe sitting awhile on Shakespeare Hill awaiting inspiration -- seeing much, hearing plenty, filing away ideas for now or maybe later.
The routine must serve him well; Schneider has had three plays produced for RLTP -- one of them the award-winning "War Room" -- and now there is a fourth, "Clean Break," a taut two-hander starring the savvy, street-smart John Fredo and the promising golden girl Andrea Andolina.
The work began life a few years back as part of the late Manny Fried's New Play Workshop. After many rewrites and much walking by Schneider, the play has had its world premiere at RLTP, there to stay through April Fool's Day.
Loner/loser Bruce, 56, widowed, broke, unemployed, owing big-time gambling debts, with "bursitis in my shoulder and a prostate on the fritz," sporting a very bad moustache, surfaces at the Buffalo real estate office of his estranged daughter, Lisa. She's not happy to see him and she would be thrilled to see him leave. She'll even pay for the bus out of town. Bruce whines and starts the old lay-on-the-guilt line: I raised you, cooked for you, bought you things, I did OK. Lisa says, yeah Dad, but what about those seedy hotels, the string of "lady friends," the long separations, the dysfunctional lifestyle and more recently, the constant hitting me up for cash? This is it, she says. You're gone.
Lisa suggests Gamblers Anonymous. "I tried that," Bruce says. "It's not for me. Those people have problems." This time though, Bruce's easy street dreams cost him Lisa, any lingering family or friends, and his freedom. Theft gets him jail time.
Five years later, we meet Bruce in Saratoga -- an odd place to recover for a gambling guy with a passion for the ponies -- running a diner and into a new life, "clean," he swears, with a new woman named, uh, Peaches. Lisa has found him and there is an attempt at reconciliation. Old hurts return and accusations are blurted after a few glasses of wine -- in vino veritas -- but, at this point, "Clean Break" seems aptly titled.
Fredo, a superb musical comedy performer, provides an entirely different song and dance as manipulator Bruce. He's near perfect, always in survivor mode, wise in the late going -- but check your wallet after meeting this guy. No more ponies, you say? At play's end, Fredo's Bruce has a sardonic smile. Summer is coming. And summer in Saratoga means the Travers Stakes. Peaches, check your purse.
The able Andolina, after several sex-kitten roles for various theaters, has a breakout night as Lisa, take-charge tough here, little-girl sweet there. When she has finally had enough, anger spent, hopes dashed but still enabling, she shakily whispers, "Bye, Daddy." Two words, volumes said. Every father in the audience felt a chill. Stellar work.
Director Derek Campbell lets "Clean Break" tell its tale. No hurry, every shrug and stare counts, silences are vital; intelligent guidance by the astute Campbell. All this is on a brilliant and detailed revolving set by Zach Serafin, supported by a skilled RLTP technical staff.
Playwright Schneider might ponder the long, wordy setup in Act I. And local references -- Wegmans, glam lawyers, hints of the Elmwood Strip, landmark photos -- produce some smiles but inch toward the gratuitous. A small quibble.
Let's hope Schneider keeps up his walks. This son of Lovejoy surely has many more stories to tell.
3 1/2 stars (out of 4)
WHEN: Through April 1
WHERE: Road Less Traveled Theatre, Market Arcade Film and Arts Centre, 639 Main St.
TICKETS: $15 to $30