Somewhere deep in flyover country, two miles off the interstate and beyond a gas station, sits a trailer where a sad but noble newsletter makes its home. The publication caters to truckers who make soul-deadening hauls across the nation’s vast midsection, feeling alone and invisible. Old editions used to feature stirring reflections on the teamster life, earning fierce loyalty from readers. Today, however, it mostly consists of personal ads (“Love Seekers”) from drivers in search of a soulmate to ride shotgun.
The Few, a new play by Samuel D. Hunter, focuses on the fate of this quirky tabloid and its editors, a trio of lonely hearts languishing in the heartland. QZ (Tasha Lawrence) and Matthew (Gideon Glick) have kept the paper going when Bryan (Michael Laurence) inexplicably left for four years. The play begins with his equally mysterious return just before Y2K and probes the characters’ pasts for answers.
Bryan, a gruff, wired loner who could have stepped out of a Sam Shepard play, slowly burns with grief for a trucker buddy who perished on the road. He shields himself with bitterness. “Try to understand that I just don’t care anymore,” he declares in a typical defense maneuver. Later he proclaims, “The reality is, other people are bullshit.” QZ, Bryan’s gritty ex, mourns, too, but she resents the way Bryan abandoned her. To compensate (and staff the office), she took in Matthew, a slight, awkward 19-year-old fleeing his alcoholic family.
Although the troubled, hard-drinking Bryan is ostensibly the protagonist, Glick gives the most affecting and nuanced performance as the tentative, browbeaten teen who harbors a secret yen for poetry. He plays Matthew in a high pitch that sounds like a plea as he struggles to form sentences. Glick gives the role such calibration that he seems both terrified of other people and more emotionally resilient than the adults. When this timid young man finally summons the courage to seek a new life, we’re touched by his geeky ebullience.
The Few has a number of things going for it, but narrative delicacy isn’t one of them. The play focuses on coercing a full emotional confession from Bryan, but he’s such a self-consciously disheveled mess that the enigma doesn’t sustain. The script also restates debates about the newsletter’s fate so frequently that the symbol becomes overinvested, and when violence erupts, it’s implausible.
What Hunter’s drama does convey, sometimes movingly in Davis McCallum’s intimate production, is a tremendous empathy for America’s strugglers, the unseen people dispersed across back roads and byways. (It’s a pity that the voices we frequently hear on the office’s answering machine — truckers dictating their personal ads — sound so stagy; using them to form an aural backdrop might have better evoked the working folks the play honors.)
Hunter displays his finest writing and reveals the play’s underlying sentiment when Bryan describes the effects on the soul of a transient life. He recalls how, for drivers, avoiding human contact becomes more and more reflexive, until they can’t look a diner waitress or motel clerk in the eye. Suddenly The Few feels more like The Many. We’re all lonely truckers, the play suggests, who have to keep moving on, looking for sanctuaries wherever we can find them — in roadside trailers, in other people, and sometimes in the classifieds.