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'American Misfit' Lives Up to Its Title at Boston Court

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Dan Dietz's play American Misfit strives to be different, which is all to the good. It combines a historical event from post-Revolutionary War America with a backdrop of rockabilly music, then drops in cameos from such disparate folks as Robert E. Lee and Ronald Reagan. It clearly intends to derive a gestalt or message from its juxtaposed elements, but it can safely be said that it fails in this attempt. The world premiere production by the Theatre @ Boston Court is unable to rise above the problems of the script, and unfortunately adds a few of its own.

Following the Revolutionary War, brothers Little Harpe (Daniel MK Cohen) and Big Harpe (AJ Meijer) are disgruntled. Their father, a monarchist, was hanged, and this has inspired the siblings to a counterrevolution, which consists of murdering innocent people, slitting them open and filling them full of stones. They're joined in their endeavor by sisters Betsey (Karen Jean Olds) and Sue (Maya Erskine), but things really change when they meet minister's daughter Sally (Eden Riegel). When one Harpe finds love and the other wants to continue the war, tragedy awaits.

Little Harpe as written is supposed to be a psychotic character, but as played by Cohen he comes off as comically arch, with an oddly indeterminate accent that hovers somewhere between Russian and Irish. Big Harpe is written as a taciturn, slow-witted man-boy, and Meijer is fine in the role but never gets a chance to add any more depth to the part. Olds and Erskine bring considerable comedic energy to the show, but are so good they easily overshadow the leads. Banks Boutté is underwhelming as the narrating Rockabilly Boy, not providing the electric charge the show desperately requires. To be fair, however, the material he's given to work with is weak.

Riegel has the best entrance in the show with her lovely rendition of "Dream Baby," and she brings a sense of intelligence and reality to her character that is lacking in most of the play. Her long Act Two scene with Little, where they get to know each other, is quietly effective and representative of what the show as a whole could be. Larry Cedar is strong in multiple roles as Sally's worried father and a droll George Washington, coolly evaluating other presidents. P.J. Ochlan similarly excels in several roles, and as J. Robert Oppenheimer he earns mid-show applause for his deft and moving delivery of a monologue that is the best scene in the entire play.

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Director Michael Michetti delivers a couple of good sequences, notably the "Dream Baby" entrance and the Oppenheimer segment, but otherwise the show sits there like a pile of wet kindling that can't produce a flame. Dietz's play seems misbegotten from its very conception--why he thought these two murderous losers were worthy of a play is a mystery, and why he thought they'd be representative of something in the American psyche in a compelling way more questionable still. Even if the Harpe brothers were a worthy subject, Dietz doesn't manage to make a convincing argument of that thesis with this work. Tack on the juxtaposition of generic-sounding original rockabilly music, a unnecessary narrator and the annoying repetition of a scratching record noise as representative of a cosmic shift, and what you get is an uneven surfeit of material that unfortunately mirrors the play's title.

"American Misfit" plays at Boston Court Performing Arts Center through May 12. Tickets are available online.