SHOWING : September 09, 2007 - October 06, 2007
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dark play or stories for boys
09/09/2007 - 10/06/2007
Playwright: Carlos Murillo
Director: Freddie Ashley
About the play
Synopsis: A teenage boy’s fictional Internet identity begins as a harmless game. But the game takes on a frightening reality when real emotion overtakes his online relationship. When Nick’s virtual world collides with the real world, his fantasies of love, intimacy, obsession and betrayal spiral into consequences that lead him to the brink of death.
Audience Advisory: Contains adult content, nudity, and strong language.
[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]
Saturday, September 22, 2007 ||
(DEDALUS has entered the Chat Room)|
This would have been a good style in which to write this column. My problem is that I find the styles and ideas and shortcuts found in many chatrooms and text messages irritating and borderline illiterate. I firmly believe that, to parody a style, you have to have affection for it. I have little respect and no affection for chat rooms and other txt msgs tht LMROTFLMAO.
Or I could just be a jerk who likes to make s$%^t up, much like Nick, the hero (if that’s the correct term) of Carlos Murillo’s disturbing “dark play or stories for boys,” currently on view at Actor’s Express.
I found this play potentially thrilling, as it probes at (but never really punctures) the dangers inherent in making connections on line. For me, though, it fell short for a number of reasons inherent in the play itself, not least of which is the pretentious "lower-casing" of the title.
The play follows Nick, a college student who is asked a pointed question by his latest (probably first) one-night stand. The play becomes a monologue (with visitors) as Nick struggles for an answer. He takes us back to the year he turned 15, when he essentially stalked an older boy on line, pretending to be that boy’s ideal girl. We are treated to the explicit sort of sex talk that passes for “connections” in on-line relationships, and to Nick’s increasingly desperate maneuverings to get his “mark” in bed.
Or it may all be a lie Nick is constructing for the benefit of his current bed-partner.
My biggest problem with the play is this “shifting sands” foundation for what is happening and who this character is. We are asked to invest our sympathy (or at least our judgment) with a thoroughly unpleasant and immature creep, only to find out he may be his own best creation. At an analytical level, I can concede that this makes sense – a recurring motif of the play is lies, how our lives get tangled up in lies, how lies breed more lies, etc etc etc. What better way than to make the play itself a lie? The problem is, when the lie is revealed, we’re left with no reason to have any sympathy for Nick, no basis upon which to understand his actions. We (or at least I) feel manipulated by a playwright who wants very much to create a “dark play” in which only he knows the rules. In my mind, that makes him guilty of what he is seemingly condemning his character.
At a structural level, Mr. Murillo uses the irritating ploy of keep repeating the same long sequence over and over (the moment his bed-partner asks him her question), a device that comes across as “filler.” (We get it! It’s a flashback! We don’t need to see/hear that scene twenty times to realize its importance!) At a character level, he has created a very thinly sketched “Adam”, the young man Nick settles on. Adam is innocent and gullible and gawky and not much else. I find it problematic that the fictional characters Nick creates are given more personality, more grounding in reality than the “real” person he becomes obsessed with. Yes, we’re seeing the story from Nick’s limited point of view, but Adam’s shortcomings come across as the Playwright’s manipulations, not the storyteller’s limited focus. Mr. Murillo doesn’t even care enough about the character to let us know what happened to him, how this whole web of deceit affected his life.
I also found Nick’s final scenario with Adam unmotivated and unconvincing. Maybe this is intentional to make us doubt the veracity of his story. Whatever. I just found it irritating. More to the point, it doesn’t truly justify the tizzy of indecision created in Nick by his bed-partner’s repeated (endlessly repeated) question.
As to the production, it engages in one of my pet peeves – projections and actors behind translucent screens are used throughout, but the set design gives some portions of the audience limited sight lines to them. I sat for a few long sequences listening to dialogue given by an image (or an actor – who can tell when it’s blocked?) hidden behind another part of the set. It’s as if my small corner of the house was written off as not worthy of inclusion in those scenes.
All this being said, I do have to give praise to the cast, particularly Jimi Kocina as Nick, who is given the unenviable task of holding our attention for 90 minutes, make us believe he’s 14 going on 15, and make us interested in his cruelties and immaturities. He is convincing in his extreme mood swings, which, if not indicative of a 14-year-old, would be indicative of classic bipolarism. And he almost makes Nick’s final “scenario” work – he seems to provide a sub-textural motivation that is glaringly missing from the script. And he truly sells the last line of the play, a line I found both funny and true (both to life and to the character he has created for us).
And Brent Rose makes the most of the under-written Adam. He is especially convincing with his early “I want to fall in love” earnestness and has a very strong scene when he is hearing the fate of his unseen “beloved.”
The cast is rounded out with Stephanie Bruno, John Benzinger, and Stacy Melich, who do some nice character work in multiple two-dimensional roles. Ms. Bruno has the challenge of being both Nick’s college-age “girlfriend” and his 16-year-old fictional alter ego, and is convincing in both. Mr. Benzinger’s cruel stepfather and Ms. Melich’s hysterical mother are also finely drawn portraits of what could easily have been caricatures.
And, sight line problems aside, Freddie Ashley has staged the piece nicely, getting the pace just right, and balancing the seeming contradictions of the script.
My lukewarm response to this play may be attributed to my old fart’s lukewarm response to the Internet. I work on computers all day in my “day job,” and the last thing I want to do when I get home is spend hours on-line “chatting” with people I’d rather be having a face-to-face conversation with. I’m sure this is Mr. Murillo’s point, but he loses focus with his layer-upon-layer of falsehoods, with his apparent affection for his manipulative character, and with his constant repetition of a scene we “got” the first time around.
On the other hand, maybe I really really liked the play and am just lying to you because I like to make s$%^t up.
On the other hand, maybe I’m really Ben Brantley writing under another name.
On the other hand, maybe I’m a failed actor with a grudge against Freddie Ashley and Actor’s Express.
On the other hand, maybe I’m telling you the truth, and am who I really say I am, whoever that may be.
((DEDALUS has left the Chat Room. For Good.)
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)
[POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
| || A few comments by jpmist|
| Fine review, I simply wanted to echo my highest praise for the performances of Jimi Kocina and Brent Rose. The level of energy and commitment by both actors I thought was brilliant. |
As far as the repetative flashbacks, I didn't mind it so much except as an actor I know damn well that I'd have been terrified to skip whole parts of the play wondering, "am I here already? nah, can't be. . ."
The whole first person structure bothered me, it get's tiresome and too cute after a while. It seems the playwright is taking the easy way out instead of writing the scenes so that they connect as opposed to a narration leading into them.
My biggest "nit" was that we never really know what made Nick capable of what he did, aside from a very brief universally terse scene with his mother. That part of his arc was far too abreviated.
Still, small faults aside, I highly recommend this production for those who enjoy watching amazing performances.
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