Sam Strikes Again with a Thrilling Play; THEATRE

Article excerpt

Byline: NICHOLAS DE JONGH;NICHOLAS DE JONGH

The Late Henry Moss

Almeida

IT MAY sound like a scene from Agatha Christie, what with the covered corpse of Henry Moss, whose estranged younger son Ray hardly conceals suspicions about a cover-up over his father's death in a New Mexican hovel.

Yet Sam Shepard's absolutely thrilling new play, a family drama streaked with vintage Shepardian humour and acted up to the hilt by a remarkable company in Michael Attenborough's tense production, has no relation to the whodunnit.

The plot may concentrate upon showing what happens to Ray while doggedly pursuing the truth about his alcoholic father's demise, but Henry's death proves a red herring.

The excitement generated is of the cerebral sort, as the play dreamily flows between the zones of recent past and the present.

Ray's concern, it transpires, is to lay the family's unappeased ghosts before his brother, Earl, not to lay his hated father to rest.

This pattern is true to Shepard's plays about families, where relations are consumed by secrets and hostilities, with brothers pitched against each other in hatred.

The past, for Shepard, is another country, policed by border guards who only admit visitors returning home at a high emotional price. So too is it here, amid designer Robert Jones's evocation of Henry's dilapidated home.

Andrew Lincoln's Ray, simmering with nonspecific aggression, arrives to find Earl nervily determined not to allow him to view the body and peddling a story about Henry's fishing trip by taxi and his sexy woman, Conchalla (Flaminia Cinque). Two superb characters, Esteban the Mexican neighbour - a comically placating Simon Gregor - and Jason Watkins's taxi driver, a Texan chatterer trading in banalities and terrified into Pinteresque humiliation, seem to confirm Earl's narrative.

Only when the play drifts into re-enactments of what the taxi driver saw of the last hours of Trevor Cooper's swaggering, depraved Henry, in the company of Conchalla - a sexy angel of death - does the play's eerie, mysterious preoccupation with mortality and vengeance become chillingly apparent.

Time past and present seem almost to run in parallel during a confessional blast of revelation. …