Phantom Owl are a Los Angeles-based theatre company “presenting new American theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe.” This year presenting three plays: Fault Lines by Stephen Belber, Filthy Talk for Troubled Times by Neil Labute and Gruesome Playground Injuries by Rajiv Joseph, plus three one-person shows as part of their Flying Solo series.
Belber’s Fault Lines tells the story of two long term friends struggling with life’s realities as a middle aged adult, who have their repressed feelings about one another exposed and blown apart by a supposed stranger. All four characters ultimately discover the truth about their own relationships and what that means for their future together.
What struck me most about this piece was the understated intensity of the performance each actor gave, a very filmic style, quite typical of American trained actors. It worked perfectly in this intimate venue, being so close allowed us to see every nuance that would have quite as easily worked on screen, in a close-up. Bill, played by Dean Chekvala, and his best friend Jim, played by George Griffith establish a naturalistic, light hearted, comic mood from the off, with Belber’s script capturing the crude, American frat humour of each of these characters. Sat next to a buzzing air conditioning unit meant that due to occasional weak diction moments in the opening of the play some lines were lost, despite this it was still easy to follow the plot solidly. Bill and Joe vent their relationship issues, (or lack of in Jim’s case) over a Budweiser and shots, both offering digs at the others lifestyle choices. Chekvala and Griffith’s relaxed but strong relationship on stage perfectly depicts the decades long friendship of Bill and Jim, which allows the audience to focus on the small tells happening throughout that indicate there are possible “fault lines” in that relationship. The mood is jutted firmly out of line when Joe enters played by Steve Connell whose performance throughout is utterly riveting. Connell’s presence fills the room with an unnerving power, he offers an edge of undefinable aggression, juxtaposed by his seemingly innocent, friendly behaviour. We, the audience wait eagerly for things to turn bad, and they certainly do once Bill’s girlfriend Jess enters played by Zibby Allen, who takes charge with an equally strong performance.
The play it’s self has some disappointing moments within the plot, that grated as slightly unbelievable in this naturalistic setting. This however was not a big issue as the whole piece was simply a masterclass in acting from start to finish. Each actor captured every moment, working together with exquisite precision to draw us all in. Matthew Lillard’s direction is perfectly simplistic allowing the actors to navigate the entirety of this small space, fluidly pointing each moment and moving from mood to mood masterfully. I was gripped throughout and found myself trying to second guess every move, only to be proven wrong at each turn.
Reviewed by Bob Galereux
Fault Lines is playing at Basic Mountain from 20th-24th and 26th-31st at different times each day so check before you book.