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Baptizing Adam

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

What happens when a man devoted to God meets a man devoted to himself? The answer might surprise you. The answer provided by David Allyn in his new play, Baptizing Adam, at the Phil Bosakowski Theatre, however, most likely will not.

It's not just because Allyn lays out most of his themes and arguments in a few paragraphs of notes on the back page of the program, though that certainly contributes. Allyn's writing in the play seldom goes beyond what's outlined on that page - the battle between religion and science, Stephen Jay Gould's theory of punctuated equilibrium, and so on.

The Adam of the title (played by Vince Gatton) meets Jack (Andrew Glaszek), Sunday school teacher and leader of a Bible study group, at the gym, and immediately takes a liking to him. Jack insists he's not gay, and frequently rejects Adam's advances and describes Adam's behavior as sinful and against God. So, what are the odds that they will not only kiss before long but also be in each others' arms by the end of the act? Don't even ask.

Still, there's a strong battle of wills to ensue, at least in the first act. Adam wants to break down Jack's fundamentalist resolve, and Jack wants to convert Adam to Christianity. Adam's a tough nut to crack, though, since he can't believe the hand of God is everywhere in a world in turmoil, the type of world where his best friend Karen (Megan Hollingshead) was raped four years ago to the day. The clash of opposing forces and strong emotions forms the backbone of the second act; while maybe a good idea on paper, it's strangely passionless onstage.

Most likely this is because the arguments are overly familiar, the basic direction of the plot predictable despite a few twists in the second act, and much about the characters' relationships are functional first and everything else second. Karen, for example, is a biologist bitterly resentful of the notion of God, which fuels little more than a flavorless argument she and Jack finally meet. There are two additional characters, Sunday school students of Jack's (played by Philip James Sulsona and Henry Glovinsky, both of whom look young but not 11 or 12) with their own emotional connection to Karen, but they're more plot devices than contributors to the action.

It's the relationship between Jack and Adam that Allyn is primarily concerned about, and its in the scenes where each tries to convert the other that Baptizing Adam comes closest to being interesting. This has much to do with Gatton and Glaszek, two very appealing performers, who, despite generating a fair amount of heat with each other, never seem completely comfortable with their roles.

Gatton does better, because Allyn sympathizes with him more. Glaszek is handicapped throughout by trite, by-the-numbers dialogue, his unwieldy scene detailing his personal connection with King James at the top of the second act particularly haphazardly included. Karen is a mess of contradictions, so Hollingshead gives an effectively nervous if occasionally confusing portrayal. Sulsona and Glovinsky play young well, but don't have much else to work with.

Director Kevin Lee Newbury does his best with the material, and makes the most out of the limited stage area, depicting a number of varying locations quite successfully with Melaine Kuchinski's few set pieces and Mark Barton's lights.

But there's only so much they can do. Allyn took a potentially fascinating concept and made it too formulaic and familiar to be the one thing it most needed to be; dramatic. He gets points for creativity but loses them for execution. Sadly, Baptizing Adam is little more than a great idea gone wrong.

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Baptizing Adam
By David Allyn
Phil Bosakowski Theatre, 354 West 45th Street
Running Time: Approximately 1 hour 50 minutes with one 10-minute intermission
Through September 15
Schedule and Tickets: SmartTix at (212) 206-1515