Larry Mitchell's American Bear has an undeclared kinship with the 'kitchen sink' school of drama of 1950s Britain, grim depictions of working class life pioneered by John Osborne's Look Back in Anger (curiously enough, also playing in Austin this week and next). Sam Shepard has explored similar terrain and Tracy Letts followed him there with sardonic tales you might call the Grand Guignols of Trailer Park Trash.
American Bear offers a world that is more credible than those. Mitchell's characters are from America's white underclass -- a waitress, a truck driver, and an unemployed layabout whose world is starkly delimited by the one-room set littered with beer cans and positioned between the parentheses of a senseless, ever-running television and a telephone that's the emblem of the lack of communication. The set by Derek Kolluri is eloquently claustrophobic.
Eddie's a regular at a Memphis truck stop. We meet this inarticulate man at the lunch counter where waitress Lonnie is wrapping the flatware in paper napkins. The communication between them is not conversation -- it's more like random semaphore signals. These two have seen one another again and again. This time, however, Eddie asks her to come home to Kansas with him. His parents have died in an automobile accident. Without thinking about it too much, and with little to anchor her at the truck stop, Lonnie agrees. In Kansas, Eddie's brother Jules is cocooned away on the sofa, huddled under a rumpled blanket.