“I am getting out of this booty-busting shithole today, six months of hell, man I hate this place. I have been sitting here for over two hours just waiting…where is she?”
Tommy Cain, Van Quattro’s taboo-trampling, sharp-edged solo play, runs through August 5 at Dallas’ 2017 Festival of Independent Theatres, and you should haul your butt out to see it. Tommy, a troubled teen waiting for his aunt to pick him up from a stint in Juvenile Hall, will break your heart and touch your soul. The play will also make you think and possibly disturb you for its boundary-crossing content. Van Quattro’s work tends to do that. Human relationships are appealing but messy in Quattro’s plays, as they can be in life. His Standing 8 Count, also a one-man work with autobiographical roots set in LA’s boxing world, hardly standard “theatre fare”, enthralled audiences in this region and at New York City’s United Solo Fest in 2016. A successful stage and film actor and published author, Quattro further establishes his reputation as an emerging playwright with Tommy Cain. Along with Sherry Jo Ward’s Stiff, this current FIT production (which he directs as well as wrote) is a real standout in the 2017 line-up.
“I don’t know why I couldn’t be good,” growls Tommy, anxious as a cat, perched downstage center in a folding chair, lit subtly to reveal the Juvenile Hall prison bars on his pant legs. Tommy is one of those troubled lads with a heavy-duty abusive home-life that includes a pill-popping mother who doesn’t exactly know how to show love and affection to her pre-teen. Memory of her naked “titties” and “triangle” are vivid material for his rambled, staccato musings. Through flashback monologues, interspersed with cussword-laced impatience at his confinement, Tommy reveals himself to be a sort of “incorrigible” old soul philosopher, with uncanny, sardonic empathy for the human condition. It’s Quattro’s gift as a playwright to show that under the defiant porcupine quill-tough blather, the boy loves unconditionally. You may wish you could bail him out, fix him a square meal and find him a safe place for a hot shower and a clean bed to tide him over until life gets better. Surviving involves a lot of slogging through muck. Tommy Cain reminds its audience there are brilliant, unexpected moments of transcendence worth surviving for.
As Tommy, Quattro cast Zachary Leyva, a teen actor with talent and developing skill. Opening night, it took him a while to inhabit the character fully; but in a subsequent viewing, he engaged his audience the moment the lights came up and held them rapt. Once rolling, he conveyed the incomprehensible disarray of Tommy’s home life and his unwavering devotion to the one person who ever attempted to love him, with honesty and ease. It’s always rewarding to watch emerging talent, and Quattro directs this young one with skill and sensitivity. LIP Service produces Tommy Cain for FIT 2017. It runs Friday July 28 9pm, Saturday July 29 2pm, Sunday July 30 6pm, and Saturday August 5 6pm. For tickets and info about all of the 2017 productions go to: