Desolate because his wife has left him over a long-ago infidelity that has come to light, Ames has summoned his best friend, Byron, whom he hasn't seen in years, to his isolated home in an unnamed state. It's gradually revealed that Ames has a similar problem, but with a sorrowful twist. While sitting up on the porch in anticipation of a lunar eclipse, they put away a good deal of liquor, argue about conflicting memories, philosophize on the differences between the sexes, fight violently, and finally collapse in exhaustion, huddling together with only a blanket for protection and comfort. The dialogue starts out as mundane, almost boring, but Shepard skillfully draws us into Byron and Ames' stark universe of unclear recollections and blighted horizons, where even the moon is in shadow. By the final fadeout, we've crossed over from drab day to poetic night.
Director Jimmy Fay and his two-man cast slowly build the tension so that the shift from naturalistic bickering to surrealistic dreaming is barely noticeable. Stephen Rea and Seán McGinley give these old coots, like a pair of hermit crabs, the necessary crusty shells while slowly exposing their soft underbellies. Rea—who also appeared in Shepard's "Kicking a Dead Horse"—is barely recognizable from his role as the cheeky young hero of the film "The Crying Game." He has totally submerged himself in the dissolute, volatile Ames, unshaven and unkempt, offering a shot of whiskey one minute and a shotgun the next. Though his American accent is a little weak, McGinley is in full command as the seemingly more stable Byron. He beautifully and simply delivers a moving monologue explaining how Byron's lonely position is eerily similar to Ames'. It's a heart-stopping moment in this weirdly compelling two-hander.
Presented by and at the Atlantic Theater Company, 336 W. 20th St., NYC. Jan. 27–March 7. Tue.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Wed. and Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.com. U.S. casting by Telsey + Company.