Here’s a fun word problem for you: If siblings Jer (Noah Galvin), Jake (Seth Numrich) and Ruby (Libby Woodbridge) are digging a hole in the mountains during winter, and it has to be at least 4 feet deep to keep the family secret buried, and their mother (Kathryn Erbe) interrupts them while toting a shotgun, how long does it take to finish digging the hole? Answer: Not in the 85 minutes of Daniel Talbott’s Yosemite, an underwritten, underwhelming, over-wrought new play inexplicably produced by Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre and lugubriously directed by Pedro Pascal.
Maybe the Rattlestick retained fond memories of Talbott’s 2009 Slipping, a wonderful play in which both Numrich and Adam Driver made big splashes. Surely only a lingering sense of camaraderie could convince anyone that Yosemite was ready to be seen by ticket buyers. Another entry in the Adam Rapp school of poverty porn, Yosemite’s characters are poor, fatherless and at each other’s throats—and logic has no place in those mountains.
How could anyone dig a hole in the dead of winter? Why does Jake take a break in the midst of digging to urinate against a tree? (This just a year after the theater saw a man in soiled underwear in Rapp’s The Hallway Trilogy.) Why does the mother appear in an unzipped jacket and never once shiver? Why does everyone keep arguing with each other instead of finishing that damn hole? And how could a screaming match between the family members that devolves into exchanging “Fuck you’s” ever seem like viable dramaturgy?
There’s no bone to the meat of Talbott’s story, no underlying message. Some families are hard-luck, and, as befits any poverty porn play, they are usually willfully messed up. These characters are no different. Jake snaps at Ruby that she’ll get fat if she keeps eating Chinese food; Ruby chatters away about all the diseases Jake’s possible recent conquest has; and some amount of closure is reached once mom puts down the shotgun.
Empathy or even sympathy are nowhere to be found on Raul Abrego’s dirty-snow set, or in the performances of the over-qualified cast. The reigning trait of Pascal’s direction is silence; the characters shift and twitch awkwardly, then burst into stilted dialogue out of the blue. Numrich is the one who spends most of the play in that hole on stage, but by the time Yosemite ends with a long-awaited bang, we’re ready to crawl into the dirt and take a nap ourselves.
Through Feb. 26, The Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, 224 Waverly Pl. (betw. Perry & W. 11th Sts.),www.telecharge.com; $55.
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