It’s hot, “Africa hot” in an airless, windowless, sweaty, dark, humid, claustrophobic room with no air-conditioning, and that’s just the theatre! The sweltering heat may have something to do with the production team removing some fans as the audience enters but its probably done purposely to set the scene and make us feel some empathy for the characters in Nate Rufus Edelman’s play Desert Rats. The one-act play is set in an airless, windowless, sweaty, dark, humid, claustrophobic motel room with no air-conditioning in Barstow, California on Route 66 midway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas – as Jesse one of the characters says “It’s a crossroads to better places”.
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Jesse and his brother Frank (echoes of the notorious James brothers here?) are two lank-haired, poorly dressed losers who are holed up in the “Africa hot” (Jesse says this a lot) motel room planning to make some money by kidnapping the daughter of a rich judge and holding her to ransom for a big payday and maybe a trip to those “better places”. But the two brothers are “Dumb” and “Dumber” and when Frank brings the kidnap victim, 18 year old valley girl cheerleader, Amber back to the motel and leaves her alone with Jesse, the much sharper “victim” turns the tables on the brothers and it’s obvious that its all going to end in tears – we just don’t know whose.
If that sounds like a clichéd plot that’s been seen before, then I’m afraid it is. The Tarantinoesque dialogue (there’s even a reference to Reservoir Dogs) needs to be a lot sharper and for the most part relies on repetition, banalities and a lot of gratuitous swearing to gain the odd laugh and drive the slight plot forward. The three characters are unfortunately two-dimensional caricatures and although we find out the brothers’ back-story as Jesse inadvertently reveals all to Amber, they’re not really believable as “real” people – these are just characters we’ve seen in dozens of “B” movies, TV shows and plays over the years.
Having said that the three actors make the most of the material they’re given. Josie Dunn as Amber is particularly good as she uses her sexuality and intelligence to bamboozle Jesse and turn him against his older brother. Rowan Polonski makes us feel a little sorry for Jesse who isn’t the sharpest tool in the box and is totally in thrall to his older, domineering brother. We don’t see a lot of Huw Parmenter as Frank as he’s off-stage a lot of the time but he’s a nasty, foreboding presence when he is on stage.
Review by Alan Fitter
Desert Rats is part of Las Americas Above a three week season of plays put on by Chaskis Theatre at Above The Arts. There are four premieres of plays that aim to develop the next generation of emerging playwrights and Chaskis should be applauded for this initiative and hopefully the season will be a big success for all concerned.
The world premiere of
by Nate Rufus Edelman
1-13 August 2016
Arts Theatre West End
Director: David Zoob
Cast: Josie Dunn, Huw Parmenter (Vikings) and Rowan Polonski (Kingsman: The Secret Service; Dr Who)
Estranged brothers Frank and Jesse reunite to plan a kidnapping in a squalid motel room on a hellish day in Barstow. When day turns into night and their victim is brought out of the trunk, the siblings find their troubles have just begun.
Book tickets for Arts Theatre London