I'm in a quandary. Is Necropolis, the new play by Don Nigro at the Pantheon Theatre, a bad play with a fair amount of sex thrown in or a good softcore porn play with bad lines? Considering the cheesy background music that often underscores the action, I'd say it's a draw.
Nigro's short play, directed by John DiFusco, is set in an unnamed war-torn Eastern European country. (Think Bosnia or Croatia.) Enter Anna (Francesca Nina O'Keefe) and Post (Jim Thalman) undressing each other in the throes of passion. The soft-porn music and intense lights signal that this is "hot stuff," but if this doesn't get you going, nothing will as the play is all downhill from here.
Anna is a rebel fighter and sniper for said unnamed Eastern European country and Post is an American reporter. Their sexual rendezvous quickly turns into an uninspired political argument. Post questions how Anna can shoot and kill people while Anna berates Post for his lazy, well-fed, privileged American life. Anna and Post fight. They kiss. They fight some more. Then they flirt.
These mood swings are highly unbelievable and Nigro's flat and terse dialogue tries to engage epic questions of life, death, and morality, but it plays more like a trite TV movie-of-the-week. Running a slight fifty minutes, the play is hardly developed enough to be engaging, yet the premise is so thin to begin with that the short running time already feels overlong.
Sadly, Nigro's play is not aided by the lackluster acting of Thalman and O'Keefe. Thalman is marginally better than O'Keefe, but his line readings are unconvincing. O'Keefe, stumbling through some of her lines, lacks subtlety and her emotions range from cute and girlish to shrill and ranting with no middle ground. The upshot is that the drama plays like a bad scene study class.
What is especially disappointing is that Nigro's play has unwittingly fallen into the same trap that his characters themselves are trying to avoid. Post tells Anna that she should not generalize or stereotype America. That what is needed to bring peace in the world is compassion and a profound understanding of others. Yet what Nigro has given us is a play that is anything but specific. Instead, Post and Anna are cardboard cut-outs fighting in a non-specific war in a non-specific country. Craig Lucas's outstanding recent play Small Tragedy dealt with similar issues of war, morality, and sex, and yet his play is an ultimately more satisfying work as it created scenarios and characters that the audience takes a profound interest in.
In Nigro's play, we continually hear the sound of artillery fire and bombs in the background. If only someone would drop a bomb on these two characters and put them and us out of their misery.