Edward Abbey was an ornery loner who preferred the stark serenity of the American desert to the clamor of cities and crowds.
But he was also a successful novelist and essayist who was an outspoken environmentalist long before taking such a stand was fashionable. And, between stints of getting back to nature, he married five times and sired five children.
Edward Abbey: Wild and Iron Sky, the current show at Hip Pocket Theatre, reveals his unconventional life with a script cobbled together primarily from journal writings that stretch from his early adulthood in the 1950s to his death in 1989.
What emerges in this play, written and directed by John C. Moore, is a sort of Jack Kerouac of the sagebrush. Abbey sees a lot of America in the 1950s (sometimes while wearing the uniform of a park ranger) and finds very little he likes. The text is sprinkled liberally with scathing rants aimed at any authority figure he can find.
Moore does a fine job of bringing the nontheatrical writings of Abbey to the stage in such a way that makes us feel we have a sense of the man by the time the final curtain falls.
He maintains a linear timeline in this collection of episodes from the author's life that hangs together well despite the lack of a true narrative. And, perhaps most impressively of all, he brings a great deal of well-conceived motion and movement to inherently stagnant material.
One particularly smart move by Moore is the use of five actors to portray Abbey, making literal the notion that he was a man of many facets. Paul Logsdon is easily the best of this quintet, but it is the range of the interpretations -- not any individual performance -- that carries the day in this show. And the use of five actresses to represent the women in his life provides both symmetry and variety.
Abbey's speeches are supported by a single musician, Darrin Kobetich, who plays the score he composed on various stringed instruments throughout both acts (this is a rare two-act show for Hip Pocket). His musical accents fall so precisely and blend with the text so thoroughly that his support becomes invisible, in the most positive of ways.
The script does waste too much time on Abbey's sexual cravings. (A young man alone in the woods desires a woman -- there's a news flash.)
But this is unusual stage work dedicated to an unusual man. In many ways it is as raw and forbidding as the desert landscapes Abbey loved. But, like those deserts, it also frequently assaults you with its fierce beauty.