624_catfish_moon_review1.jpgIn his recent roles at the Playcrafters Barn Theatre, Patrick Adamson - portraying the insistent houseguest from hell in 2005's The Nerd and the irresponsible, romantic Gordon in the current Catfish Moon - has displayed an almost fearsome amount of talent.

His line deliveries are so emphatically heartfelt (and funny) that you hang on his every word, but what's more impressive is the attention he pays to others. It's obvious that Adamson is really listening to those he shares the stage with, which not only makes his co-stars look good - his interest in them is so active you want to match it - but fleshes out his own role immeasurably; Gordon is forever trying (and failing) to do the right thing, and Adamson's imploring expressions give the character's comically erratic behavior a context. Adamson brings you so close to his characters that you can practically see their psyches; it's easy to find yourself wishing there were two of him to watch.

Happily, in Catfish Moon, we get the next best thing.

Patrick Adamson's older brother Jim appears alongside him as Gordon's less unstable, more aggrieved best friend, Frog, and makes a strong case for acting ability being genetic. Like Patrick, Jim is an unapologetically emotional performer, and continually underscores his dialogue with the weight of personal experience. (In Act I, the livid Frog says to Gordon, "You broke ... my heart," and the unbridled honesty of Adamson's delivery catches you off-guard.) He doesn't enact his role so much as breathe it; Frog's disappointment and aching need for solace are, thanks to Adamson's total commitment to character, nakedly apparent through what he doesn't say.

On some level, we all understand how much of acting is dependent on reacting, so it may seem elementary to praise the Adamsons for being, and staying, "in the moment." But with no disrespect to their fine Catfish Moon co-stars - Joel Youngs and Jamie Bauschka - Patrick and Jim Adamson are currently demonstrating the difference between playing roles and living roles, and considering playwright Laddy Sartin's amiable but oddly unsatisfying script, this show needs all the "living" it can get.

A comedic drama that finds three best friends returning to the lakeside fishing pier of their youth, Catfish Moon is filled with enjoyably argumentative banter and - despite the characters' frequent yelling - is sweet as all get-out, but it doesn't cut very deeply. Although Gordon, Frog, and Youngs' excitable-yet-level-headed Curley are given contrasting character traits, there's not much to suggest what made them bond initially, and while the script tinkers with subjects of infidelity, alcoholism, and mortality, it doesn't reveal much insight into its themes; the moral of the story could be boiled down to "Be nice to your friends." (Sardin's script also features a rather contrived plot-gooser in the character of Bauschka's Betty, who is Frog's ex-wife, Gordon's current lover, and Curley's sister.) It's up to the actors to fill in Catfish Moon's many blanks, and it's to their credit that they so often succeed.

Jamie Bauschka, Joel Youngs, Jim Adamson, and Patrick Adamson in But the production - snappily directed by Greg Bouljon - is dependent on your buying the three leads as lifelong friends, and while that's effortlessly conveyed through the Adamsons' fraternal repartee, Youngs has far greater difficulty pulling this off, and for a reason that's hardly the actor's fault: Not to be indelicate, but given the material, it's impossible to determine if Youngs is 20 years too old for his role or the Adamsons (and Bauschka) are 20 years too young for theirs. Their ages aren't specified in the dialogue, but the men are clearly meant to be no more than a year or two apart, and I was too often distracted by Curley seeming less like Gordon's and Frog's friend than their dad.

Subsequently, I never quite believed in the show's central conceit, but at least Youngs is doing his damnedest to make it work. He's enormously energetic, gets his laughs, and comes up with terrific bits of comic business - Curley chomps on Rolaids as if his life depended on them (as it actually might) - and his climactic scene appears deeply felt; Youngs does an admirable job of overcoming his miscasting. (He would have been even better if, at Friday's opening-night performance, he seemed more confident about his lines.)

And Bauschka brings welcome, sensible grace to her purely functional role. The show's pitch simmers down - and quiets down - when she's on-stage, and the actress gets an especially touching rhythm going in her scenes with Gordon; she's never around quite as often as you'd like.

In addition to eliciting commendable performances from his cast, Bouljon has designed a beauty of a set for Catfish Moon - the broken-down pier looks appropriately, charmingly weathered - and lighting designer Jennifer Kingry has again outdone herself; at the moment it appeared, the show's full-moon effect received deserved applause. (It has the effect of making the images on Andy Beveroth's striking lakeside drop look three-dimensional.)

Yet whether Frog is wrestling with a really big fish on his line or Gordon is delivering a comically wrenching apology for a huge faux pas at the play's end, or the two are simply, appropriately bantering like two men who've grown up knowing each other way too well, Playcrafters' Catfish Moon belongs to the Adamsons. For a play about brotherly love, audiences couldn't ask for a lovelier pair of brothers.


For tickets, call (309) 762-0330.

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