And while he's at it, he makes us wish we'd known him before. Even in the face of misery, Gunner has quite a way with a one-liner. "Are you out of your mind?" his wife asks during a dispute over how much he paid for a bottle of booze. "Not at the moment," he replies. "Stick around, ya never know."
Or listen to him on the subject of suicide. Peg: "Suicide is a mortal sin!" Gunner: "So is molesting kids — I'll be surrounded by priests."
Even Peg, whose steely matter-of-factness thinly veils both a fierce love for her husband and a fierce sense of duty, can lapse into black humor. She quips that Gunner once suggested a murder-suicide pact, but she said no thanks: "Knowing him, he'd shoot me and then forget to shoot himself."
These moments, like that expensive booze that Gunner gulps down, help ease the pain. So do the flashbacks to less complicated times, like when Gunner first met and married Peg.
But Gunner doesn't need flashbacks to remember his love for his wife. When she asks him, at one point, who she is — she wants to be sure he's focused — he responds with a perfect, detail-rich description of not only who she is but how they met and what she was wearing and how beautiful she was.
At such moments, big feelings seem to emanate from the theater's tiny stage: Big pain. Big loss. Big love. Big heart.