Roger Karshner's gritty study of frustration, futility, and familial discord in mid-Depression Ohio farm country was first staged in 1974 by the fledgling Met Theatre with terrific actor James Gammon as producer and star. Gammon's daughter appears in the Met's current revival, starring ruggedly handsome Ian Gregory as rough-hewn hardscrabble farmer Frank Haynes. Gregory's richly virile voice and physical presence fit the role to perfection. He gives full vent to Frank's scatological everyday conversation (to mother-in-law Pearl's horror), but spotlight Frank front and center and he reveals hidden depths of poetic sensibility with his yearning to soar on his envisioned "fluffy" dream crust. The metaphor is chancy but it provides the catchy title.
This play is a faithful reflection of its time and place, and perhaps also its people, so we can hardly fault it for being grim, but these characters are not pleasant company. At best an uneasy truce exists between the men and their womenfolk. (Is there not a trace of misogyny in Karshner's play?) Frank, a born farmer, copes while working the soil: "Just me and them horses and the corn and the quiet," he rhapsodizes. But hard times force him into industrial work, and like a rural Willy Loman he can't adapt. As his conformist wife, Andrea Lauren Herz seems to be trying to break through her role to something deeper and more humane; she wants to be a Madonna mother, but her role won't let her. In the midst of tragedy the playwright has her worrying about what the neighbors will think.
There's no such ambivalence in Shannon Welles' portrayal of Pearl, a grandmother from hell. Allison Gammon, as Helen's prissy, acerbic sister, puts on airs and bickers with her ineffectual husband, played by David Goldman. No wonder Frank drinks too much beer and gets away to Shady Corners, where drinking buddy Dude keeps him company. Jeffrey Gorman's Dude is really a rather nice guy; his playful scene with Frank's fragile, sickly son is one of the play's few light moments. The 10-year-old Paul Farber truly touches the heart with a simple and poignant portrayal of a lonely little kid whose adults aren't capable of nurturing him. Karshner's play contains the seed of a powerful, archetypal father-son story that does not come to fruition.
To say props are by eileen's prop shop is to say they might run away with the show. An assemblage of meticulously gathered antiques brings director/designer Steve Whittaker's spacious indoor/outdoor set alive. Bo Crowell lights it fittingly. Regan Carrington's costumes are just right. Kerry Chater's "Dream Crust" theme song and Jeff Folschinsky's sound design provide release and surcease for this occasionally lyrical, insistently lugubrious study of tough lives in rough times.
"The Dream Crust," presented by and at the Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Oct. 18-Nov. 25. $20. (323) 957-1152.