"The thing about the truth is it’s a mean old bastard."
So sneers Jake Russell Sr. to his father-in-law in Jeff Chastang’s Full Circle, currently being performed by Plowshares Theatre Company. The line is one of the drama’s most poignant, for Full Circle is nothing if not a play about truth: running from it, denying it and, eventually, facing up to it, however dark and painful. But it’s also a play about family, choices, changing times and love (or the lack of it) in all its various and confounding strains.
Set in Detroit in 1990, Full Circle traces the Russell family following the tragic death of Max, the older son of Jake (Herman McCain) and his wife Yvonne (Jennifer Jones). Also coping with the loss are son Jacob Jr. (Michael Ellison), Yvonne’s sister-in-law Cal (Charlotte J. Nelson), who has already endured the death of her husband, and Yvonne’s heavy-handed father, Roy (Council Cargle).
The thematic and stylistic influence of August Wilson is vivid in Full Circle. As a matter of fact, were Wilson to never complete the 1990s installment of his century-long chronicle of the African-American experience, Full Circle would serve as a worthy and fully realized substitute. The tight ensemble cast (shaken only by Jones’ baffling tendency to read the bottled-up Yvonne as a near-automaton), uproarious yet always insightful humor and careful situational analyses are but three obviously Wilsonian touches.
One key difference lies in Chastang’s multilayered portrayal of the youthful element of his intergenerational exploration. While Wilson tends to provide meatier roles for baby boomers and elders, Chastang lends just as much teeth to their heirs, through the character of Jacob Jr.
Only 34 himself and admittedly constricted by the same 9-to-5 routine against which Jacob rages, it is little wonder that Chastang rounds Jacob out so well. What comes as more of a shock is the knowledge that Full Circle is Chastang’s first play.
It would be unfair to call Full Circle an exceptional inaugural work. The truth, however, is that it’s an exceptional drama, period – and one not to miss.
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