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Coronado is Dennis Lehane’s latest tour-de-force. I’ve only read one of the three stories in the collection (“Gwen”), but will be all over the other two after seeing the play based on it. The San Francisco Playhouse is one of my favorite theaters, a young company doing a lot of cutting edge stuff, and the west coast premier of Coronado kept a whole group of us riveted for the entire performance. I’m not going to go into the play’s structure too deeply because it will give away too much if you happen to catch it. Only one of us in the group (not me, and I’d read the story) caught on to what was happening during the first act.

“Gwen” is a father-son play about a gangster-thug who, when his son is released from prison,  picks him up with a present of a prostitute and a bottle.  Ostensibly, he wants to give the kid a new start. However it soon becomes apparent that his real concern is the whereabouts of a diamond that disappeared during the theft of which said son was captured.  Gwen is the son’s girlfriend. She’s has disappeared as well, and that’s the setup.

The play opens with three couples sitting in a bar. The father and son is one of the couples.  It’s obvious that the three pairs are involved or are going to be involved with one another, but just how is not immediately apparent. Lehane not only doesn’t mind moving back and forth in time, but he likes to move sideways as well. Still, you’re never really lost. How he does all that, I don’t know, but he does it well. He gets away with putting ten-dollar words in the mouths of blue-collar characters (You mean you put your dick in my mouth because you were feeling ancillary?), and the one-liners come as much out of the characters’ psychology as out of the urge to pull a laugh out of the audience.

Coronado is in many ways a dark story, but not a depressing one. I feel the same way about Gone Baby Gone, a book which the movie made more grim than the novel. I don’t find any other stage credits for Lehane. He’s not listed for a share of the screenwriting on either of his big movies (Mystic River is the other,) but he’s certainly welcome to write another play. I’ll go. And I’ll read his next book, too. Try him out yourself.

sitting up clapping

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