Thursday, October 5, 2017

NO WAKE by William Donnelly Opens at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Tricia Small, Stef Tovar, and Tim Ransom in NO WAKE.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Rebecca (Tricia Small) is a sexually aggressive, manipulative woman – apparently most comfortable when she is literally and figuratively “on top” - who succeeded in seducing Nolan (Stef Tovar) several years ago.  But just look at what it got her: an unintended pregnancy which resulted in the birth of her daughter, Sukey (a psychologically damaged girl from whom she has long been estranged); an unhappy marriage to Nolan (Sukey’s father), a relatively indecisive, passive and defeatist individual, who ultimately abandoned her; and, eventually, a bitter divorce.  Rebecca has moved on since then to her second marriage to Padgett (Tim Ransom) – an Englishman as weak-willed as his predecessor but with a somewhat amusing British veneer, who sees himself, probably correctly, as “lacking,” “deficient,” and “less than fifty percent man.”  Nolan has moved on too, but to nothing more than a series of trivial relationships.

Under ordinary circumstances, Rebecca and Nolan might never have seen each other again but the circumstances in No Wake by William Donnelly, currently enjoying its New York premiere at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan, are decidedly not ordinary: Sukey has committed suicide and her parents are now in the process of arranging her funeral and memorial service (there is to be no wake not only because Catholics don’t do wakes for suicides but also because Sukey apparently had specified at some time that she never wanted a wake) and to sort through the remnants of her life.

There is probably no tragedy that parents can experience that is any worse than the suicide of a child and it would be reasonable, I imagine, for one to have expected that, in the course of this play, we would be treated to an exploration, or at least a depiction, of the emotional toll that such a tragic event can take.  Indeed, in the play’s press release, we are told that when Rebecca and Nolan “are forced to confront an unspeakable tragedy, they must navigate their complicated feelings of guilt, relief and grief” and we are assured that “acidically funny and brutally honest, No Wake unpacks the grieving process and the aftermath that death brings to those left behind.”

But to my mind, the play did no such thing, falling far short of the incisive analysis of Sukey and of her parents that we had been led to expect.  We don’t really discover why Sukey so hated her parents that she opted to estrange herself from them, let alone why she committed suicide.  We don’t learn much about the relationship between Rebecca and either of her two husbands either.  And we’re left high and dry in making sense of Rebecca and Nolan’s reaction to Sukey’s death or even to one another after the fact.

What we do learn, however, is that the play’s title is just too clever by half: ostensibly it refers not only to the decision not to hold a wake for Sukey but also to the fact that Rebecca, Nolan and Padgett are consistently reluctant to act decisively (don’t make waves, leave no wake – get it?)

At one point late in the play, Padgett confides in Nolan about the failure of his first marriage (pre-Rebecca) and says that “where I should have boiled, I evaporated.”  And that, unfortunately, was my reaction to this play itself: where it should have boiled, it evaporated.

It is at least possible, however, that I am being somewhat unfair to the playwright.  Perhaps it actually was his intention, all along, to show that different people may react to tragedies in different ways and that even in the case of a tragic suicide such as this, some parents may experience nothing more than numbness.  If so, he did succeed.  But, unfortunately, it led to something of a numbness in me as well and I doubt if that could possibly have been his intent.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

THE VIOLIN by Dan McCormick Premieres at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Peter Bradbury, Robert LuPone and Kevin Isola in THE VIOLIN.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
The Violin by Dan McCormick, currently enjoying its world premiere at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan, is an immensely entertaining modern fairy tale set in the pre-gentrified Lower East Side.  All of the ingredients are there (albeit in somewhat mysterious or disguised form – omens and harbingers, departed souls, severed limbs, strange occurrences, secret passages, lucky discoveries, and, ultimately, happily-ever-aftering).

And so, when Terry (Devin Isola), who is mildly retarded (euphemistically described by his mother as “her special child”) lost both his parents in a flash he readily accepted the assurances of his older brother, Bobby (Peter Bradbury), a petty thief who survives by burglarizing stores and stealing cars but who is utterly devoted to Terry, that they had not really died but simply had been called to Heaven to be with God and that they might even return one day.  When Terry’s palms begin to itch, he takes it as an omen that money is about to come his way and, sure enough, while he finds no Aladdin’s Lamp nor Philosopher’s Stone nor even a winning lottery ticket, he does find a violin – a Stradivarius, no less – left in his gypsy cab.  Terry does not realize the violin’s worth nor how it may change their lives, but Bobby quickly does and hatches a plot to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars in reward money from its rightful owner for its return.

To that end, Bobby enlists the assistance of Gio (Robert LuPone), a skilled tailor (doesn’t every good fairy tale require a skilled tailor?) who is “legendary” in his neighborhood (or at least believes himself to be).  But the fact is that Gio’s father not only taught Gio the trade but also imbued him with morals and integrita, which leads Gio to be deeply conflicted over the entire affair.

Meanwhile, the mysteries (all of which are, in fact, resolved by play’s end) pile up.  What actually did happen to Bobby and Terry’s parents?  Why did Gio never marry, what was his relationship to Bobby and Terry’s parents, and why has he always been something of a father figure to both men?  Why does Gio only sit facing the door, as did his father before him?  And what, if anything, does the clutter in his shop conceal?  Is there any significance to the boot Bobby stumbled over on 14th Street – the one with the severed foot still in it?  And, of course, how will the violin caper turn out?

Robert LuPone is dispassionately cool as Gio, gradually providing us with most of the answers to our questions as he peels away the layers of his, Bobby’s and Terry’s lives.  Kevin Isola is mischievously charming as Terry (although he appears to be much less intellectually challenged and much more socially unaware than his description as “retarded” or “special” would have led us to believe; it is difficult, for example, to accept his expressing his having experienced an “epiphany” as he does - but that is not meant as a criticism of Isola; he played the role as it was written and did a fine job at that).

Best of all, however, is Peter Bradbury who provides an exceptionally rich portrayal of Bobby – a small time amoral hood who, at one and the same time, is fully committed to caring for his younger brother, despite being frequently and openly exasperated by him.  It is a complex role to play and Bradbury succeeds brilliantly.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Lee Pelletier Bewitches in THE BARONESS - ISAK DINESEN'S FINAL AFFAIR

L-R: Vanessa Johansson, Dee Pelletier, and Conrad Ardelius in THE BARONESS - ISAK DINESEN'S FINAL AFFAIR.  Photo by Elinor DiLorenzo.
Scandinavian American Theater Company (SATC) was founded in 2009 to present contemporary plays by Scandinavian playwrights and, in its first seven seasons, has staged twelve full scale productions and more than 37 readings.  Its latest full scale production, The Baroness – Isak Dinesen’s Final Affair is by the Danish playwright Thor Bjorn Krebs and has been translated by Kim Damboek.  It is currently being staged at The Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row on West 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan and it is a real knockout.

In 1948, the then 62-year-old Karen Blixen (Lee Pelletier) - better known under her pen name Isak Dinesen and as the author of Out of Africa and Babette’s Feast – was introduced to the up-and-coming handsome Danish poet Thorkid Bjornvig (Conrad Ardelius) by his publisher’s wife, Benedicte (Vanessa Johansson).  The Baroness Blixen, we quickly learn, is something of a cougar (she might prefer the term “lioness”) but of a more than eccentric sort and with a rather vicious streak: in the course of her platonic but otherwise increasingly intimate relationship with Bjornvig, she manages to destroy both his marriage to Greta and his love affair with Benedicte and contributes to the dissolution of Benedicte’s marriage as well.

To be sure, before encountering Bjornvig, the Baroness had had an unusual and far from easy life, her father having committed suicide when she was not yet ten years old.  When her first love for Hans Blixen-Fineckes was unrequited, she settled for an engagement to his twin brother, Bror, following him to Kenya where they married.  Bror’s infidelity led to their divorce but not before the Baroness had contracted syphilis from him, a condition for which she was treated for years with mercury and arsenic.

The net result of all this was that the Baroness returned to Denmark; eschewed the institution of marriage; forewent further sexual relations; fancied herself a witch, who had to drink children’s blood and who was capable of casting spells; claimed to have made a pact with Lucifer; perceived herself as a “lioness” who “seduced” a string of young men (her “cubs”), the last of whom was Bjornvig; and may, indeed, have been a bit mad.  But sane or not, witch or not, and devil-disciple or not, there can be little doubt that the Baroness was sadistically selfish, employing her commitment to literary freedom and creativity as a tortured rationalization for her own aberrant and eccentric behavior.

The play is presented from Bjornvig’s perspective and Ardelius performs splendidly as the malleable, conventional, submissive “cub,” so in awe of the Baroness and so eager to release his creativity and achieve literary success for himself that he is willing to sacrifice his wife, friends and family, embrace infidelity, and forego love, if that’s what the Baroness contends it will take for him to attain his goal.  Johansson, too, is excellent as Benedicte - charming, sensual, insightful and empathetic, but, ultimately, just another sacrificial pawn in the Baroness’ evil game.

Good as Ardelius and Johansson are in their respective roles, however (and they are good!), it is Pelletier who really steals the show, succeeding in conveying in her bravura performance just how brilliantly creative and obsessively committed to literature the Baroness was, while simultaneously displaying just how evil, sadistically manipulative and, yes, possibly mad, she really was as well.


Sunday, August 6, 2017

SUMMER SHORTS 2017 - SERIES B at 59E59 Theaters

59E59 Theaters’ Summer Shorts 2017 Festival of New American Short Plays is staged in two segments: Series A, which includes Playing God by Alan Zweibel, Jack by Melissa Ross, and Acolyte by Graham Moore (see our last review) and Series B, which Includes Break Point by Neil LaBute, A Woman by Chris Craigin-Day, and Wedding Bash by Lindsey Kraft and Andrew Leeds (which we have just had the pleasure of seeing in its opening performance. 

L-R: Andy Powers, Donovan Mitchell, Rachel Napoleon, and Georgia Ximenes Lifsher in WEDDING BASH, part of SUMMER SHORTS 2017 - SERIES B.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
To my mind, Wedding Bash was far and away the best of the three works.  The playwrights have done a brilliant job in their presentation of an unusual subject – destination weddings and how differently they may be perceived by participants and guests – and the entire cast is wonderful in portraying all four of the very entertaining characters they have created.  Lonny (Donovan Mitchell) and Dana (Rachel Napoleon) have returned from their destination wedding in Sedona (a place they selected because of its fabulous red rocks and because it was far cheaper for them to hold their wedding there than, say, in Los Angeles).  Alan (Andy Powers) and Edi (Georgia Ximenes Lifsher), two of their wedding guests, are now visiting them in their home in Sherman Oaks and, as one might expect, talk turns to their memories of the wedding.

To Lonny and Dana it was fabulous – what with the Sedona backdrop (and economy) of it all.  But to Alan and Edi, not so much.  From their point of view, Lonny and Dana were simply selfish, imposing big costs on their guest for travel and hotel accommodation just so that they might save some money themselves.


L-R: John Garrett Greer and Keilyn Durrel Jones in BREAK POINT, part of SUMMER SHORTS 2017 - SERIES B.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Neil LaBute has been participated in 59E59 Theaters’ Summer Shorts programs for nine years so it comes as no surprise that he has an entry in this one.  Break Point is a two hander in which Oliver (John Garrett Greer), a world-class tennis player, attempts to bribe Stan (Keilyn Durrel Jones), another world class player albeit one not quite in Oliver’s class, to throw a game.  I am generally a fan of LaBute’s but I was a little disappointed in this play.  On the one hand, I thought it was somewhat overwritten with Oliver and Stan excessively circling around the moral issue confronting them, while on the other hand, I thought that they never truly focuses sharply enough on the real issue.  But both Greer and Jones deserve credit for two fine performances.


L-R: Jennifer Ikeda and Mark Boyett in A WOMAN, part of SUMMER SHORTS 2017 - SERIES B.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
In A Woman, Kim (Jennifer Ikeda) is a strong-willed ardent Christian feminist who, for ten years, has been trying to convince her Presbyterian Church to choose a woman as an elder, in contravention of the church’s rules which allow women to be deaconesses but not elders.  Now her old friend, Cliff (Mark Boyett) has just been name pastor of her church and she is trying to convince him to do what his predecessors would not.

Despite excellent performances by both Ikeda and Boyett, I found A Woman to be the least satisfying of the three plays on the program.  From my perspective, it was just another glib spouting of identity politics – only this time applied to the church rather than to national government.  It is one thing to argue that a woman ought not be denied the Presidency of the United States or the position of elder in the Presbyterian Church simply because she is a woman and I would certainly agree with that  But it is quite another to argue (as Hillary Clinton did) that a woman should be elected President simply because she is a woman (or that she should be named an elder of the Presbyterian Church for no reason other than that she is a woman as Kim proclaims)

Monday, July 31, 2017

SUMMER SHORTS 2017, Festival of New American Short Plays, Arrives at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Quincy Dunn-Baker and Claire Karpen in JACK, one of three plays in SUMMER SHORTS 2017 - SERIES A.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Summer Shorts 2017 marks the eleventh annual season that this festival of six new American one act plays is appearing at 59E59 Theaters.  It is like a flight of light rose wines or white wine spritzers – not very heady stuff, to be sure, but a pleasant respite from the more consequential considerations of our lives as we enter upon the dog days of summer.
 
This year’s program is in two parts playing in repertory: Series A consists of Jack by Melissa Ross, Playing God by Alan Zweibel and Acolyte by Graham Moore while Series B includes Break Point by Neil LaBute, A Woman by Chris Cragin-Day and Wedding Bash by Lindsey Kraft and Andrew Leeds.  Series B hasn’t opened yet but we’ve just seen Series A and enjoyed it very much.

To my mind, Jack was clearly the best of the three plays.  It was a very endearing treatment of the difficulties of dealing with death, loss and moving on.  Maggie (Claire Karpen) and George (Quincy Dunn-Baker) have been divorced for six months but still see each other every week to hand off their pet dog, Jack, of whom they have shared custody ever since their separation.  But Jack’s death (at age 18) has broken their last remaining link to one another and neither of them seem to be dealing with it very well.  Both Ms Karpen’s and Mr. Dunn-Baker’s performances are superb – nuanced and sensitive.


L-R: Bill Buell and Dana Watkins in PLAYING GOD,one of three plays in SUMMER SHORTS 2017 - SERIES A.  Photo by Carol Rosegg. 


Playing God was the least substantial of the three plays, a bit of fluff with some humorous moments.  When Doctor Fisher (Dana Watkins) unilaterally decides to induce the birth of Barbara Graber’s (Flora Diaz) baby a week before its due date simply so that he can go on vacation, God (Bill Buell) is so piqued by the doctor’s arrogance in usurping God’s right to determine when a child will be born that he comes down to Earth to put the doctor in his place – which ultimately seems to mean not much more than trouncing him at squash.  God’s Assistant (Welker White) shows up too and she’s so annoyed at the doctor that she gives him – wait for it – a cold sore!  There are some funny lines which might have worked better in the Borscht Belt and Buell is rather droll in his role but otherwise the play doesn’t amount to very much.


L-R: Sam Lilja, Orlagh Cassidy, Bronte England-Nelson, and Ted Koch in ACOLYTE, one of three plays in SUMMER SHORTS 2017 - SERIES A.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Acolyte is a fictionalized rendering of a scene that actually might have occurred in the life of Ayn Rand, arguably the most influential novelist of the twentieth century.  She was a major influence on intellectuals and politicians on both the left and the right and is probably more responsible for the growth of the libertarian movement than anyone else.

It has been known for decades that Ayn Rand had an affair with Nathaniel Branden, her principal acolyte and a man young enough to be her son – with the full knowledge and begrudging acceptance of both Rand’s husband and Branden’s wife.  The play is set in Rand’s apartment late on a Saturday night and those in attendance are Ayn Rand (Orlagh Cassidy); her husband, Frank O’Connor (Ted Koch); Nathaniel Branden (Sam Lilja); and his wife, Barbara (Bronte England-Nelson).  And it is the premise of the play that this was when and how Ayn informed Frank and Barbara of her intention to sleep with Nathaniel and obtained their acquiescence to her scheme.

In a note in the play’s script, the playwright actually contends “Note: This actually happened” though what exactly “this” refers to is not clear.  If it is simply the fact that Rand and Branden had an affair with the full knowledge and acceptance of their spouses – well, we already knew that.  But if it is that the scene depicted in the play actually occurred – well, then one might wonder how the playwright could possibly know that.

There is no denying that Ayn Rand was a forceful, creative and challenging individual who had a significant influence on political thought to this day.  But she was also something of a two-dimensional cardboard character who saw everything in terms of black and white – and something of a hypocrite to boot.  It is to Grahan Moore’s credit that he has succeeded in capturing both of these aspects of her persona.  On the one hand, he has given her the best monologue of the play, the one in which she demolishes both liberal and conservative thinking:

“The liberals believe that God is dead and that we live only for the betterment of the least fortunate.  First they extended their helpful hand to women, then Jews, then the blacks, and soon enough it will be the sapphists and queers and whatever other supposed unfortunates they can unearth.  The mob will grow in number, and it is the the mob to which they pray.  Too dumb to realize that that if they give the mob this power of righteousness – that if morality is only what the mob decrees at any given moment – then what is right and true and just will change every spring with the blooming of the lilies.  Today’s hero will become tomorrow’s villain.  And eventually, one day, with the fire of an Old Testament plague, the collective’s opprobrium will burn us all.  The Bolsheviks came for my father.  The Leninists came for me.  The liberals will come for you.

“And the conservatives?  They’re even worse.  Their hypocrisy runs so deep that they devote the entirety of their intellectual energy to disentangling their knotted limbs.  How many pointless words has Mr. Buckley vomited on the page to explain the obvious and laughable contradiction that cleaves his mushy brain in two.  He is a capitalist, who believes in the free market.  But he is also a Christian, who believes that we must love our neighbors as ourselves.  Well: you cannot do both.  If Christianity teaches that each of us has a touch of heaven’s grace within our soul, that our worth derives from god – then our worth cannot be measured in dollars, and it cannot come from the marketplace.  Is my value determined by the light in my breast or the labors of my body?  The history of this country is that of Christians claiming to believe in the market so long as it suits them, or capitalists praying fervently to a god that deep down they know isn’t real.  The liberals ae dumber, true, but at least they’re fucking honest.”

And yet, on the other hand, Moore makes it abundantly clear that there is another side to the story as well.  And so, he has Barbara Branden addressing Ayn Rand like this:

“…you’re a hypocrite.  You claim the mantle of a tradition of knowledge straight from Aristotle, but you know what?  You’re just like every other street corner preacher with a bible in one hand and a collection jar in the other.  You gussy it up in your books with this faux-academic language – ‘epistemological crises’ and ‘problems with the universals’ - but you never even went to a university.  You’re not a philosopher.  You’re not even an artist – you’re a con artist.  You twist your system of beliefs to grant you whatever it is that you want in the moment.  Fame?  Money?  My husband’s cock?  I was 15 years old when a girl in my neighborhood lent me her copy of The Fountainhead.  I read your story about an iconoclast who didn’t give a damn what anyone else thought – a character who lived completely for himself, by his own rules, without a second’s concern for the chattering of the naysayers.  You know what I learned?  Not to back down to a bully.  To stand up for what I want, what I believe, what I hold dear, no matter what crap anybody spits in my face.  So thank you, Ayn, for teaching me that lesson.  You want to have sex with my husband?  Apparently, there is nothing I can do to stop you.  But you want my permission?  Fuck you.  You either get to live out your twisted sexual fantasies or you get to stand there atop that marble pillar of righteousness.  But you don’t get to do both.”

Orlagh Cassidy’s portrayal of Ayn Rand is pitch-perfect, capturing her intellectual pretensions, her cool self-centered rationalism, and her idiosyncratic passionate sexual narcissism.  Sam Lilja and Bronte England-Nelson are equally good as Nathaniel and Barbara Brandon, exhibiting the unwavering loyalty to their cult leader that only twenty-somethings can muster.  And Ted Koch provides just the proper balance in his role as Frank O’Connor, Ayn Rand’s relatively unschooled husband, an actor/painter wannabe who really doesn’t comprehend what his wife and her followers are even talking about (and doesn’t much care that he doesn’t so long as he can drown his pain in alcohol).    


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Terrific Revival of Stoppard's ARCADIA at Atlantic Stage 2

L-R: Andrew William Smith and Caitlin Duffy in ARCADIA.  Photo by Stan Barouh.
Tom Stoppard, arguably the world’s greatest living playwright, is a theatrical wizard and polymath whose plays involve the very biggest, deepest and most complex philosophical and scientific ideas, ranging from chaos theory to determinism to free will, from Fermat’s Last Theorem to fractals to computer algorithms, from Newton’s Second Law of Thermodynamics and entropy to the irreversibility of time, from Byron and poetry to landscape design and botany – ultimately arriving at man’s most fundamental ontological and epistemological questions regarding the very nature of life, death and reality itself. And if all that sounds daunting, never fear: Stoppard is such a literary genius that you’ll probably find him bringing more clarity to those subjects than you’re likely to have gotten from all the lectures and university courses in mathematics, physics and philosophy you may have attended over the years. And there’s little doubt in my mind that you’ll find Stoppard’s presentations far more entertaining to boot.

Arcadia, Stoppard’s masterwork, touches on all of the above and more and is widely recognized as one of the greatest plays of our time.  Originally produced at the Royal National Theatre in London in1993, it won the 1993 Olivier and Evening Standard Awards for Best Play that year. When the first New York production opened two years later, it won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and was nominated for the 1995 Tony Award.  When it was revived in London, it received even more glowing reviews than it had 16 years earlier and a subsequent Broadway revival was equally successful.  And now the play is being revived by PTP/NYC (Potomac Theatre Project) in association with Middlebury College in a terrific off-Broadway production at Atlantic Stage 2 on West 16th Street in Manhattan.  Admittedly, one might assume that all those predecessor London and Broadway successes would be tough acts to follow but the PTC/NYC company has proved itself to be fully up to the task.

Arcadia is set in Sidley Park, a stately English home in both the years 1809–1812 and in the present (1993 in the original production and around the turn of the millennium in this latest revival).  In this production, it is In 1809 that Thomasina Coverly (Caitlin Duffy), a teenage prodigy, apprehends a number of remarkable mathematical and physical truths on her own, including the laws of thermodynamics, chaos theory and fractals, while her tutor Septimus Hodge, (Andrew William Smith), is engaged in an illicit romantic liaison with Charity Chater, the wife of Ezra Chater (Jonathan Tindle), a second-rate poet who, upon discovering his wife’s dalliances, challenges Septimus to a duel. (Hodge is also a friend of Lord Byron who, as it turns out, also is staying at the house at the time and who also gets to sleep with Charity.) (Neither Charity nor Byron ever actually appear in the play, but the importance of their roles cannot be overestimated.)

In the present, Hannah Jarvis (Stephanie Janssen), a writer, is investigating the history of a hermit who may once have lived on the Sidley Park grounds, while Bernard Nightingale (Alex Draper), a literature professor, is investigating the very period in the life of Byron when he was in Sidley Park. As matters unfold, the truths about what actually occurred in Sidley Park two centuries earlier is gradually disclosed and the play’s many mysteries are (at least partially) resolved.




Thursday, June 15, 2017

MY EYES WENT DARK Premieres at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Declan Conlon and Thusitha Jayasundera in MY EYES WENT DARK.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Declan Conlon and Thusitha Jayasundera deliver two of the most outstanding performances in any of the several plays that comprise this year’s Brits Off Broadway program at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan.  As Nikolai Koslov, a Russian architect who is driven obsessively to wreak vengeance upon Thomas Olsen, the air traffic controller whom he holds responsible for the death of his wife and children in an avoidable plane crash, Conlon performs with a cold, single-minded intensity that effectively succeeds in blurring the distinction between madness and sanity.  And in the role of Nikloai’s wife, Marya Koslov, as well as in the demanding roles of a whole host of other female characters who interact with Nikolai – including Katya (an eight year old girl), Dr. Geisinger (a trained psychiatrist), Helena (Thomas Olsen’s widow), Ms Weitner (an executive with Skyways, the air traffic control company that employed Olsen), and Yana (a woman who also lost her son in the plane crash) – Jayasundera displays an absolutely extraordinary range of acting talent.

My Eyes Went Dark, written and directed by Matthew Wilkinson, is an ambitious two-hander, inspired by true events, that played to sold-out audiences in London and Edinburgh and is currently enjoying its US premiere at 59E59 Theaters.  It is the tale of Nikolai Koslov, whose family died in a plane crash while en route to visit him in Nice.  As the facts emerge, it appears that the crash was not the result of terrorism nor mechanical failure nor pilot error, but rather was the consequence of misfeasance by Thomas Olsen, an air traffic controller with Skyways.  Clearly, Olsen and Skyways were at fault and should be held responsible, but are they morally or legally culpable as well for what was surely an honest mistake?

For Koslov the answer is an unequivocal “Yes!” and when Olsen is acquitted of criminal liability, Koslov is pushed to the breaking point.  Ultimately, he avenges the deaths of his wife and children by killing Olsen – but without premeditation and with no subsequent recollection of the event.  Which leads us to ask: if Olsen is not morally or legally responsible for the deaths he caused without premeditation and through honest human error, should Koslov be held morally or legally responsible for Olsen’s death which he caused without premeditation and, indeed, without even any memory of the event?

The playwright alludes to these questions but never resolves them and doesn’t even really pursue them with any persistence.  Similarly, he suggests that Koslov’s intense animosity toward Olsen might have been motivated as much by his own guilt feelings at having created a situation in which his family had to fly to visit him in Nice in the first place as it was by a truly objective indictment of Olsen’s behavior.  He raises the issue of whether Koslov was sane or insane when he killed Olsen and what difference that might make in determining his guilt or innocence.  And he alludes to all the standard PC issues re forgiveness, acceptance, and getting on with one’s life.

Wilkinson touches on all those matters but never really seriously addresses them and that is the play’s weakness.  My Eyes Went Dark turns out not to be particularly intellectually challenging, despite the questions it raises, because once raising them it doesn’t really do anything more with them.  The premise of the play is a valid one but the play itself could use a lot more editing and fleshing out.

And so my bottom line is this: the play itself is somewhat disappointing but the actors’ performances are phenomenal and those performances alone are justification enough for your seeing this one.