By Clark Groome
Richard Hart was the only lawman within 300 miles of Homer, Nebraska. He was widely respected, so much so that when President Calvin Coolidge was going to visit, “Two Gun,” as he was known, was invited to be one of his bodyguards.
But Hart had a past that he wanted to forget. Born in Brooklyn to an Italian family, he left to take up his role as a lawman in what was then a still wild part of the Midwest.
When Al Brown, a self-described antiques dealer from Baltimore, drives his state-of-the-art Duesenberg to Nebraska to see Hart, much of both of their secrets is revealed.
Their encounter makes up local playwright Bruce Graham’s latest, “Mr. Hart & Mr. Brown,” which is getting a strong world premiere production at Malvern’s People’s Light and Theatre Company, where it will play through Aug. 19.
The play is set in a historian’s study in the mid-1960s with flashbacks to the action outside of Homer in 1929. I have to be careful here because there are some plot twists and surprises that can’t be revealed without spoiling the play’s impact.
“Mr. Hart & Mr. Brown” takes a while to get going. The historian (Peter DeLaurier) is telling a visiting Ph.D. candidate about what happened more than a quarter century before. We see the interaction between and among Hart (Christopher Patrick Mullen), Brown (Richard Ruiz) and Ambrose Healy (Michael Doherty), a young reporter whose commitment to the truth and determination to tell Hart and Brown’s story almost gets him killed.
The PLT production is mounted on a fine Matt Saunders set that also serves as a screen for the historic and classic western movies that the local historian so loves and which play a part in the story. Many of those movies starred William Hart, the man after whom Two Gun legally changed his name.
Director Pete Pryor has staged the piece with a steady hand. The other members of his design team — Scott Anderson (costumes), Lily Fossner (lighting) and Christopher Colucci (sound) — do admirable work.
The play itself, like so much of Graham’s work, captures its characters in a most believable way, even in those moments when what they’re doing and saying is somewhat hard to believe. The story is based on the real-life relationship between Hart and Brown. It is an ultimately impressive investigation of the relationship between violence and reason. It also takes a look at just what the true meaning of being part of a family is.
The acting is, for the most part, quite strong. DeLaurier was superb. Ruiz, Doherty and Mullen were all very good in spite of the few occasions when their acting was just a bit overwrought.
For tickets to the world premiere of Bruce Graham’s “Mr. Hart and Mr. Brown,” playing through Aug. 19 at People’s Light and Theatre Company in Malvern, call 610-644-3500 or visit www.peopleslight.org