In many ways, we're in classic Shepard territory: a decaying shack in the vast US back-of-beyond, with potentially lethal siblings reunited. You can almost smell the dysfunctional bitterness and death hanging in the air in designer Robert Jones's adobe interior with its heaps of junk and hulking greasy fridge, which emits a burr, like a rasping breath, whenever it's prised opened (just part of composer Adam Cork's eerie soundscape).
We gather, in the opening scene, that Henry has expired several days ago. His corpse is still there, festering on the bed. Earl tells Ray how their dad was already dead when he himself arrived from the East Coast, having received a worried call from Esteban, the Mexican guy who lives in the nearby trailer. However, Ray keeps making his brother retell this story, asking questions. He is turning detective in a murder-mystery. Or is he feverishly imagining a crime while waxing dangerously aggressive himself? Shepard's characters are obsessed with possibly false memories.
We slip into an extended flashback after Ray tracks down and starts interrogating a taxi driver (Jason Watkins) who ferried Henry around with a floozy called Conchalla (Flaminia Cinque). Within that time warp, further alternative realities arise, concerning how the man truly gave up the ghost.
As in last autumn's Donmar premiere of Shepard's The God of Hell, the denouement is disappointing. The flashbacks are slightly awkward too.
Maybe Shepard's long struggle was with the narrative structuring. Nonetheless, en route, Lincoln is a terrifyingly convincing psychotic: coldly matter-of-fact then explosively violent (with vicious fight choreography by Terry King). Coyle's slow-burn is equally riveting, while Trevor Cooper's growling, lurching Henry has a touch of Falstaff and Cinque's voluptuous Conchalla is wonderfully funny, flopping into the bath like a soused mermaid. Watkins is a painfully funny wittering fool, cruising for a bruising, and Simon Gregor's tiny, wiry Esteban manages to dart around like a cartoon desert rat, yet ultimately exude unshakable human dignity and kindness. All this and terrific performances, too.
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