Casual brutality: Griffin Independent & Stories Like These's Rust and Bone

The short stories by Canadian author Craig Davidson are not for the faint-hearted. In his collection of eight stories entitled Rust and Bone (also the title of the first story), there is a certain masculine façade, a swagger and bravado that is fiercely entertaining and quite alarmingly funny. There are boxers desperate to survive another round, their hands broken toomanytimes; pitbull breeders and killer whale trainers and sex addicts, their stories told with a bluntness that belies their strange brand of sensitivity. Chuck Palahniuk describes them as “[smudging] the line between cruelty and horror, comedy and mercy,” and that’s quite an accurate way to describe them.
From three of these stories, then, comes Caleb Lewis’ Rust and Bone currently playing at Griffin Theatre as part of their Griffin Independent season. It’s not a comfortable evening by any stretch, but it’s certainly not bleak; there is humour there but it’s confronting more than anything – are you meant to be laughing or not?
The set is a beige concrete diamond with a square sunk into its centre, a square that becomes everything from a pool at Sea World to a boxing ring and a dog-fighting arena, and icy lake, a doctor’s surgery, and countless other locations as dictated by Caleb Lewis’ script. It’s almost a metaphor for the hard unwavering belief in oneself that seems to cripple and plague the three men in the play. The script is distilled from and expanded upon from Davidson’s stories, namely the titular Rust and Bone, Rocket Ride, and A Mean Utility, and is written as three intersecting crisscrossing monologues, a kind of ‘symphony for voices,’ as Lewis describes it in his program note. Watching it, however, it’s not so much a symphony as watching a master-joiner at work, or maybe like listening to a fugue, as the three stories collide and intersect with each other with a precision that belies their blindly-swaggering masculinity. The French director Jacques Audiard described Davidson’s stories as “a complete universe – the kids, the fights, the atmosphere of devastation and crisis,” and it’s even more apparent in this production, in the confines of Griffin’s auditorium.
It’s such an intense play, the sixty-five minutes running time barely registering throughout its duration. And it’s performed by three actors – Renato Musolino, Sam Smith, and Wade Briggs – who change roles and characters as the stories shift and intersect, as they are needed, from man to dog to wife to mother to child and back again, a chameleonic performance style which draws the audience into the stories’ respective worlds completely. Their focus and attention to making every one of their characters, however brief an appearance they make, feel unique and real, identifiable, is incredible and in a space such as Griffin, where the actors cannot hide, where the truth of their acting is so close to the audience, such a feat is all the more impressive, reflects more brilliantly upon the director (Corey McMahon) and the cast.
Underneath the tough and scar-hardened exteriors of the three men’s stories is a surprising vulnerability, glimpsed fleetingly as if through letting their guard down. It is a terrifically gripping and visceral sixty-five minutes in the theatre, darkly humorous and macabre in its own way, yet it is never dull.
As Davidson’s titular story concludes, “and, for a brilliant split second in the centre of that darkening ring, we meet.”

Theatre playlist: 2. Window, Nick Cave & Warren Ellis

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