May 26 2010 12:00 AM

Icarus Falling delivers powerhouse production of Sam Shepard drama

With its latest production, Sam Shepard’s “The Late Henry Moss," Icarus Falling proves great acting can be compelling enough to overcome a less-than-perfect physical space.

While Studio 1210 in Old Town makes a nice art gallery, its limitations in lighting and its lack of a backstage make it a challenging venue for a play. Shortly into the work, however, emotional immediacy easily trumps environment.

An intense and dark work with a few moments of muchappreciated comic relief, “Moss” is a study of selective memory as a survival mechanism. Brothers Earl (Jack Dowd) and Ray Moss (Brad Rutledge) meet at the home of their estranged father, Henry Moss (Michael Hays) after being summoned by phone call from Henry’s neighbor Esteban (Markitwia Jackson). Estaban, Henry’s self-appointed caretaker, becomes concerned when Henry goes on an especially excessive bender.

The action begins with younger brother Ray’s arrival at Henry’s small adobe house in New Mexico. As Earl pages through a photo album, Ray paces and fumes about — well, the fumes. For reasons still to be disclosed, Earl has been shut up in the Jack Dowd, Markitiwia Jackson and Brad Rutledge deal with psychic scars in "The Late Henry Moss." house with Henry’s ripening corpse for days.

Eager to get rid of the old man, Ray sputters, “A corpse is a corpse!”

True, unless that corpse is played by Michael Hays. Once Hays comes to life in flashbacks, he is mesmerizing. As an alcoholic ravaged by the physical and mental decay caused by the disease, he gives Jeff Bridges a run for his Oscar.

As lies are exposed and protective facades are torn down, Earl is violently forced by both his father and brother to face the most traumatic episode of his life. It’s a significant memory for both of the other men, and Earl has suppressed it for decades.

Rutledge and Dowd are evenly matched and believable as brothers. Their physicality and the timbre of their voices seem to carry the same genetic markers.

Rutledge brings a frightening intensity to Ray, who unravels emotionally as he unravels the mysterious chain of events surrounding his father’s death. Dowd moves easily from being the figure of calm authority to being reduced to a frightened child in the shadow of his unpredictable father.

Earl, Ray and Henry rip at each other violently, causing collateral damage to the minor characters and, to a lesser extent. the audience. A feeling of shell-shock follows the curtain call, but after that fades, the excellent performances by Hays, Dowd and Rutledge will remain etched in your memory.

’The Late Henry Moss’

Falling Studio 1210 1210 Turner Street in Lansing 8 p.m. Friday, May 28
and Saturday, May 29. Tickets are $10 ($5 for IF "virgins" who’ve never
been to an Icarus show before). For more information, call (517)
898-1679 or visit (517) 337-7744