William Bivins’ “Ransom, Texas” reminds me of Oedipus Rex turned inside out– a Greek tragedy with a distinctly Western accent. There are no women in the play, except as references, and it shows: not a hint of femininity anywhere. The world condensed down to two men, fighting, as John Steinbeck once said, like terriers. In a very, very small, dingy room full of old papers, photos, and a very heavy, ponderous desk.
Like all power struggles, this one rests on the delusion that if you have control of some external thing, you have power. Delusion begets delusion — the two men are drowning in deceit and treachery. It’s never quite clear who is actually lying, or about what, until the end, and then it doesn’t really matter, because the subterfuge is just another posture that hides the truth: a young man wants what an old man has, and the old man, steeped in pain, tries to warn him off. And at the same time draws him in. And the young man goes willingly. Is that fate? Or simply the nature of the beast?
Dixon Phillips plays the father, Vern — by turns a wise man, a hateful braggart, a liar, a man of deep truth, violent, tender. A generation ago he had the same struggle with his father. He knows the past and the future. He has a love-hate relationship with himself, and he sees himself in his son.
Damien Seperi plays Bruce, a deceptively gentile young man, Vern’s son. He is by turns mild, cajoling, pleading, whining, violent, perceptive, a loving husband and father, treacherous and every bit as ambitious as Vern. Full of desire. He knows little of the past, and his vision of the future is dimly lit. His journey into himself is only beginning. He loves his father, but wants to displace him. He naively believes himself to be different from his father.
And they do appear at first to be very different — Damien’s accent (which I took to be Castilian), soft demeanor, refined modernity. Opposed to Vern’s roughness, his crude speech, his old world manners and combative nature.
No two men could appear to be less alike and yet be the same — possessed of a destructive need to rule. To be supreme. The only difference is that one man knows the cost and the other doesn’t.
It’s that discovery of the cost that makes this play work. At 70 minutes it feels like 15. Tense, terse and unremitting. The acting is brilliant, the staging perfect.
Photos of Damien Seperi and Dixon Phillips by by Luis A. Solorzano courtesy of Virago Theater.