Richard Lambert of LAMBCO Productions brought Buddy Thomas’s The Crumple Zone to the UK for the first time in 2016, despite it having been an off-Broadway hit some 14 years earlier. The play received critical acclaim in London too, and now it returns to the King’s Head Theatre for another seasonal run, but with some significant changes.
This is the right time of year for a staging of The Crumple Zone, the play is set at the final weekend before Christmas when seasonal cheer has been replaced by rising tensions. It’s the early nineties and we’re on Staten Island, the commuter town for Manhattan. The premise is a rather complex love triangle; Sam, a musician of some sort, is on a tour of backwater America, her boyfriend left at home is keeping himself busy in a sexual relationship with Buck, who sees it as more than just a fling while the girlfriends away. Meanwhile, Terry who is friends with both Sam and Alex is attempting to halt the adultery and take Buck for himself.
One big change for this run is that Sam is now a female character, while in the original version the entire cast was comprised of men. The switch actually works really well, because for some reason it seems to make the deception all the more bruising, Alex hasn’t cheated on Sam with another woman, but a man, and that hurts unsuspecting Sam in a deeper way.
While it’s the Alex/Buck/Sam relationship that forms the basis of the story, it is the character of Terry who takes centre stage, Lucas Livesey gets all the best lines, delivering them with the right mix of pathos and humour. At one point he says he’s always wanted to star in his own episode of The Golden Girls, and some of those witty one-liners and put-downs could have come straight from the Miami lanai.
This version of The Crumple Zone has been shortened, and while the new seventy-five-minute running time should be ample for the story to unfold, it all feels just a little bit too rushed. The cast are almost tripping over each other to get their lines out, as the pace gets quicker and quicker, it gets more difficult to understand what direction the play is taking. We also lose some empathy for Alex and Buck, there’s nothing really left to endear them to us.
The cast do a good job with the material, with Robbie Capaldi as Buck, and Natasha Edwards as Sam the strongest. Directed by Robert McWhir, the staging works well, the set becoming messier the more cheap vodka and orange juice is consumed. There are several long pieces of dialogue, and on more than one occasion it felt like we weren’t going to make it to the end, making the whole piece feel under rehearsed.
There are plenty of laughs in The Crumple Zone and it’s a nice, easy seasonal treat, although the shorter version seems to lack the key ingredients that made it such a success in the first place. The gender swap is a definite welcome addition, but some tightening up is required to ensure this festive romp doesn’t lose its sparkle.