(619) 505-7777

THEATER REVIEW: “Simpatico” is another gem from Sam Shepard

In the early years, America had pioneers, crossing mountains and fording streams on the way to gold and glory.

The pioneer spirit has given way to penny-ante (and more serious) hustling scams in Sam Shepard's savage and darkly funny “Simpatico,” in a fine production through March 27 at New Village Arts Theatre.

Set in the world of horse racing, “Simpatico” tells the story of childhood friends Carter (Mike Sears) and Vinnie (Manny Fernandes), who pulled a horse-swapping scam 15 years ago, and when it was discovered, arranged a sting on racing commissioner Simms (Jack Missett) to keep him quiet.

Carter and Simms have done well since: Carter took off with both Vinnie's Buick and his wife Rosie (Terri Park), and is now a wealthy Kentucky horse breeder. Simms moved to Kentucky and, with Carter's help, got into the bloodstock business.

But Vinnie has become a drunken reprobate in the old stomping grounds of Cucamonga. Though Carter would like to divorce himself from association with Vinnie, this day finds him in Vinnie's filthy Cucamonga apartment simply because Vinnie asked him to come. Vinnie, you see, is the keeper of the incriminating evidence that could bring down Carter's house of cards – and possibly land both of them in jail. Vinnie is a kept man, and it's Carter's money that keeps him in whiskey.

Vinnie's stated need today is for Carter to talk to a woman Vinnie says had him arrested for trespassing, invasion of privacy and harassment. He wants Carter to get her to drop the charges.

But this is Shepard, nothing is as simple as appearances indicate, and in this noir story of guilt, mendacity, blackmail and a perverse form of brotherhood, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility. Fasten your seat belt for a bumpy ride.

Vinnie and Carter are the major players here, but Cecilia and Simms are more fun to watch, providing a measure of (black) comic relief. Cecilia, a Safeway grocery bagger, seems endearingly dim but may have more on the ball than is immediately apparent.

Simms is just a guy making a living, easily brought down by one sex scandal and now, when Cecilia visits him on a mission from Carter, on the verge of making a fool of himself again.

Fernandes and Sears play wonderfully off each other, each wanting out of the relationship but needing the other in sick ways.

Strassburger impresses as the innocent who may be swayed by the right offer. Missett is the best I've ever seen him; his final suggestive scene with Strassburger a total hoot.

Park and Kelly Iversen do memorable turns in the smaller roles of Rosie and her maid Kelly.

Twists, turns and noir humor – yep, it's Sam Shepard, and though spending an evening with Shepard's folks frequently makes me feel I've been clubbed with a bat for a few hours, this is one of the best productions of a Shepard play I've seen.

The details

“Simpatico” plays through March 27 at New Village Arts Theatre, 2787 State St., Carlsbad.

Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m.

For tickets, call (750) 433-3245 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.