Going home (or to what used to be home) for the holidays is a painful experience for many. As we grow up, what used to be family traditions fall away, as the responsibilities and burdens of adulthood weigh down. Such is the case in Chad Beckim's new play, The Main(e) Play . Shane, an actor who is beginning to make it in New York, returns to his childhood home in Maine, where his brother Roy still lives with his seven year old son, Jay, and their Ma. The two brothers stand in direct contrast to each other. While Shane earns his living filming cheesy commercials, the most famous of which is one for the Gap, Roy works pouring construction, what he considers to be actual, honest work. It is the collision of the two brothers that causes both to come to a realization about the way they are. The stage is set up to resemble a small-town, decorated-with-love living room that is littered with toys. All signs seem to point to a basic, American family drama. But, what sets The Main(e) Play apart from other domestic dramas is that its action mainly occurs somewhere else, offstage. Jay and Ma are never seen, only mentioned, even though their characters shape a lot of the play. Thanksgiving dinner, the reason why Shane has returned home, is only mentioned after the fact. A large portion of stage time is dedicated to the brothers sitting on the couch, smoking, watching TV, and rehashing what just happened. A shroud of mystery surrounds the play. Shane's cell phone and wallet go missing; who besides Jay could possibly have taken them? What is the problem with the boys' Ma? Why did were the locks changed on the family house?
The play doesn't attempt to explain everything or even anything. It stresses the results of the brothers', particularly Shane's, actions, rather than the actions themselves. Each character in the play is flawed, but in the end it seems that Shane is the most flawed of all. Where Roy has accepted the responsibilities of fatherhood, Shane has rejected it in a devastating way. Shane finds things to blame for the difference in his childhood home, never accepting it is his own actions that could be the reason for the change.
Language in the play is of utmost importance, due to the fact that the audience hears about things rather than sees them. Beckim's dialog is sharp-tongued and a bit offensive. Roy, his friend Rooster, and Jess, Shane's ex-girlfriend, speak in a way that is, at times, delightfully crass. The actor's use of accents subtly distorts what they are saying, particularly when their characters leave messages on Roy's ancient answering machine. The distortion can cause some frustration for the viewer, since the messages come at a pivotal point in the play. The only character who is accent-less is Shane, who has practiced and trained long to lose all vestiges of his hometown voice. It is interesting that Shane, the one character who is the most opaque, should be the one to speak the most clearly.
Anyone who has ever returned home and hated it should perhaps look into themselves to see why. The Main(e) Play will appeal to those who appreciate not knowing everything up front, and to those who like to hear the language of the stage rather than just see the action. The play manages to set itself apart from other plays that would be considered “domestic dramas” by not showing the audience all the dirty details of home life, just the one that ultimately matters.