Toward the end of “The Evening,” Richard Maxwell’s fragmented show about three people in a bar — a cage fighter, a manager/fight promoter and a stripper/bartender — the actors suddenly stop calling each other by their character names and resort to their real names. Mind you, they are still in character, and in shaggy, snow-camouflage costumes that resemble the suits worn by snipers. The trio, at this stage, moves in a twilight world of white fog that has enveloped the stage and the audience. They go toward a river that they must cross. It could be an abstracted scene from Dante or from afterlife ideas of some of the world’s religions.
The show is a Walker Art Center commission and its Thursday premiere kicked off the annual Out There festival. Maxwell, a downtown New York writer, director and performer known for the economy of his works and for his obsession with boxing, has crafted a piece that plays with the power dynamics of archetypal characters. Asi (Brian Mendes), the bruised boxer fresh off a fight, would seem to be the one with the most power, since he makes a living bashing people. But both barkeep Beatrice (Cammisa Buerhaus) and promoter Cosmo (Jim Fletcher) have ways of asserting themselves in “The Evening,” which has a jumble of ingredients and slight connective tissue.
The show begins with Maxwell, who won the 2014 Spalding Gray Award, sitting at a table and reading a short story about the last days of a dying father. This bit is poetic and poignant, ending with the image of sprinklers going off in the morning as the father passes.
“Evening” then transitions to its meat-and-potatoes phase. The three characters interact in a dive bar while a three-piece band plays. Beatrice (like the guide from Dante), is restless, and wants to travel to Istanbul. Why? Because she wants to get away and Istanbul sounds far away. (It’s also a place of good hash, as Cosmo, a stoner, says.) But Asi, with whom Beatrice used to live, vehemently disagrees. Cosmo offers her support, which enrages Asi.
The threat of violence hangs over and sometimes erupts in “Evening.” True to Maxwell’s reputation, the show is both visceral and understated, with down-and-out characters who do not draw much empathy from us.
In a program note, Maxwell explained that in “Evening,” he wanted to show the distinction between archetypes, characters and people, about what a writer could do with each and the amount of power (“agency”) each has. That all seems heady for a show that is mixed but still visually and aurally very interesting.