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Beyond Recognition

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

John Petrick chose an apt title for his new play being presented by the Abingdon Theatre Company. Though Beyond Recognition refers to the main character, whose face was significantly deformed when he was viciously assaulted and left for dead in Central Park, it has every bit as much bearing on what truth itself looks like once Petrick's characters are done with it.

In the world Petrick has created, and which Kate Bushmann has effectively brought to life with her direction, honesty is an almost completely foreign concept. Just about every character finds it necessary to lie about this, that, or the other thing, and it's not long after Beyond Recognition has started that you realize any word a character utters must be taken not with a grain of salt, but the whole shaker.

In brief: Kevin (Grant James Varjas) completes his lengthy recovery from the brutal physical beating only to suffer an even worse emotional one: His boyfriend Andrew (Christopher Burns) has moved from New York to Seattle, most likely to be with someone else. Kevin makes his pilgrimage to Washington, but is followed by one of Andrew's friends, a tabloid reporter named Mark (David Valcin) who is intent on unearthing the real story behind Kevin's attack. Kevin, however, doesn't know the real story - he's blacked out most of the day.

Andrew, it's soon established, won't reveal the truth to Kevin, but that's par for the course for him, being semi-closeted and not yet out to his parents, or willing to own up to his own indiscretions. Mark has an "open relationship" with his wife and thinks nothing of lying to Kevin to get the story that may make his career. The people of New York were lying to themselves when showing support for Kevin about their care for a fellow New Yorker, and it might just have been Kevin's inability to tell the truth, or recognize it in others, that led him down the road to violence in the first place.

It's a harsh and unfriendly situation, yes, but handled effectively by Petrick insofar as the characters are concerned; with each clothed in a layer or two of deceit, they're all on equal footing, and all are very difficult to like. From a technical standpoint, Petrick is a bit more careless, using a fourth character (played by Michael Goduti) for a purpose so deliberately unspoken that his role becomes apparent long before it's revealed in the second act. Why Petrick bothered is unclear; he's much more interested in the impact of all this treachery on relationships than in the minor details of plot, and Beyond Recognition is always at its best when dealing head on with the characters.

With the exception of Goduti, locked in a thankless and obvious role that gives him little room to maneuver, the actors are fine, making it obvious that each character - however heartless he or she may appear - at least thinks enough of himself to justify his actions. That keeps the characters' relationships to each other and the story at least believable. Michael Schweikardt's set is attractive modern chic, and David Castaneda's lighting successfully conveys changes in times, locations, and emotions.

Those emotional changes happen about as constantly as changes in the stories the characters tell each other; unsurprisingly, those two events are frequently related. Beyond Recognition is as often difficult and unpleasant play, but it paints a jarring picture of the danger of relationships based on anything and everything but trust.

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Abingdon Theatre Company
Beyond Recognition
Mainstage Theatre, Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex, 312 West 36th Street
Schedule and Tickets: 212.868.4444