If the central character in "Blood Relations" could bring himself to say what was on his mind -- and didn't waltz 'round and 'round a great verbal mulberry bush -- Michael Wright's family drama at New Playwrights' Theatre would easily be half as long and probably twice as interesting.
Warren is the character's name and he's a hyped-up punk who has dyed swatches of his hair blue and red. He may not have St. Vitus' dance, but he certainly behaves as if he does. Fueled by some inner hurt, nerves all ajangle, he's a nonstop torrent of talk, much of it abusive and delirious. Apparently, stating things with any semblance of rationality and conciseness is "being linear" and Warren proudly claims membership in the "the anti-linear league."
As a result, it takes "Blood Relations," which opened last week, a long time -- more than 2 1/4 hours -- to get to the root of Warren's troubles, and then it seems as if most of the talk could have been avoided with a simple explanation or two. Withholding basic information may be one way to keep an audience in suspense, or at least curious -- but Wright abuses the tactic. His play is one big smokescreen.
By the end, you will have pieced together the situation. Warren (Steve Dawn) has turned up unexpectedly in suburban Baltimore to confront Ray, the father who abandoned him in infancy. Warren was brought up in New York by his mother, but she has just died. Now Warren wants to vent his anger and spleen and Lord knows what else on Ray, the father he's never seen.
Ray (Victor Gialanella) seems a decent enough middle-class bloke. He has raised Warren's brother, Sonny, on his own, and he's got an affair going with Amy, the pleasantly plump lady across the street. Understandably, Warren's arrival, not to mention his unusual comportment, makes for some awkward moments. What it does not make for is the kind of cosmic confrontations Wright seems to envision. Warren may be a poor, tripped-out, mixed-up kid, but when the truth of the long-ago split between his mother and father finally comes out, he doesn't really have much of a case to stand on.
He does have words to spare, however, and his jabber is evasively hip and coyly literary at the same time. He claims to appreciate proper syntax. Then he quips, "Syntax, that's a levy on bad conduct." He explains his disdain for sitting down by saying, "Possibly I was frightened by a chair when I was wee." He threatens his father by shouting, "I've been waiting for you my entire life, adult." But when asked to come to the point, he demurs, "Nothing's simple."
His prolixity, alas, proves catching. It takes stolid Ray a virtual eternity to disclose his intention to open a German fast-food restaurant. And poor Sonny, confronted with a long-lost brother and the news of a dead mother, never really does sort matters out. Since the dialogue won't stop playing hide and seek, his bafflement is comprehensible.
That the actors carve somewhat credible characters out of this verbiage is one of the few accomplishments of the evening. (Lewis Folden's fine set -- a dreary bungalow under high tension wires -- is another.) Dawn, however, does project a certain giddy menace as the rampaging son. Gialanella, who looks a bit like Peter Ustinov portraying Archie Bunker, lends needed weight and at least flashes of common sense to the proceedings. And Jim Fyfe, as Sonny, and Robin Deck, as the slightly bewildered girlfriend, manage to cling to reality, even when Wright doesn't.
James Nicola's staging is as intelligent as circumstances permit, although he overlooks the one ploy clearly called for: bringing out the pinking shears. I suspect what Wright wants us to hear under the endless confrontations of "Blood Relations" is a throb of dense pain. But the prevailing noise is the clickety-clack of the playwright at his typewriter, producing words, words and more words.
BLOOD RELATIONS. By Michael Wright. Directed by James Nicola; set, Lewis Folden; lighting, James Katen; costumes, Mary Ann Powell. With Jim Fyfe, Robin Deck, Victor Gialanella, Steve Dawn. At New Playwrights' Theatre through Oct. 31.