Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Political Allegory Scores Strongly as Ripe, Suspenseful Melodrama
It is not coincidental that D.W. Gregory has set her play during October, 1962, when the world appeared to be on the brink of a nuclear conflagration after President Kennedy learned that the Soviet Union was deploying nuclear missiles aimed at the United States in Cuba.
October, 1962 is seen through the eyes of two precocious parochial school girls, 14-year-old Jean and, to a lesser extent, her 11-year-old sister, Nan. The entire action takes place in the decorous, conservatively furnished house occupied by the sisters and their parents, David and Laura Timmons. There is clearly a great deal of tension and edginess in the marital relationship.
Armed with a pair of binoculars, and a notebook and pencil, the girls peek out from their window in order to observe and chronicle the return to their street of Tommy, a young man who has just been released after spending many years in a mental hospital. It seems that while a child himself, Tommy had been committed to the hospital after being convicted of deliberately killing a seven-year-old boy. Jean and Laura are surprised to observe that their father David has driven Tommy home from the hospital.
To his wife Laura's chagrin, David has given Tommy a job in his plant in order to facilitate his reintegration into the community. We are led to believe that the tension between Laura and David likely stems from his having had an affair with Tommy's mother. Jean is convinced that Tommy is innocent of the long ago murder, and she seeks out Tommy in order to explore his feelings. Despite David's admonition to Tommy to avoid contact with them, Tommy lingers with his daughters. Driven by paranoia and fear, the townsfolk interpret Tommy's every observed behavior in a fearful light. Laura even fabricates a story about his behavior. However, we cannot help but worry as to whether Jean and Nan are placing themselves in serious jeopardy.
All of this builds to a terrifically tense and emotion laden scene during which their parents discover that Jean has been spending time with Tommy. Nan turns on her older sister in order to deflect her parents' wrath away from herself. The interaction of the parents and their children rings fiercely true. And, it is chillingly apparent that there is something more afoot when David lashes out at Jean, "You've been watching me. Spying on me ... What is it you're trying to find out?."
Author Gregory has a lot more in mind here than mystery melodrama. Gregory is placing the blame for the Cuban missile crisis, and, more relevantly at the moment, for the Iraqi War, on American aggression and paranoia. The Timmons are pointedly Catholic not to add specificity to the characters, but rather to accuse the Church of hypocrisy and deceit in the face of pedophile clergy. The extent to which October, 1962 succeeds as an allegory of the guilt, manipulation and paranoia of the American body politic will vary with the mindset which each viewer brings to the theatre. The more skepticism with which one views America's role on the international stage, the more one will be inclined to accept her analogies. Some will embrace Gregory's dark view of America as an paranoid, overbearing and morally challenged nation. Others will find her observations as naive in regard to the reality of the dangers which our nation faces. However, no one will be bored. For those of us so inclined, there is plenty of fodder here to provide the basis for lively and enlightening discussion wherever our views fall along the political spectrum.
Director Matthew Arbour has managed to meld his actors into a first rate ensemble. There is a strong sense of family among the four principals. Both James Patrick Earley and Kittson O'Neill solidly project a complex maze of emotions as the all too human and self-absorbed parents. It may be too kind to say that David and Laura are less than admirable, but they do love their children and are fighting to save their home and family. Unfortunately, Juliet Kapanjie's natural, unmannered performance as Nan is undermined by poor enunciation. Nevertheless, October, 1962 marks a notable professional debut for the 10-year-old fifth grader. Jenny Vallancourt is a natural in the pivotal role of Jean. Starting out in the manner of a juvenile mystery book amateur detective, her Jean grows in intensity and maturity as she delves more and more deeply into dark and scary corners. Ultimately, Vallancourt powerfully conveys the hysteria which overcomes Jean as her parents desperately attempt to shield her from the darkest family secret.
Carrie Mossman has designed a richly detailed, realistic set depicting several areas of the Timmons' home on the NJ Rep's narrow stage. Patricia E. Doherty's costumes are unobtrusively evocative of the period.
In October, 1962, author D.W. Gregory explores major political themes, and integrates them into the whole without sacrificing any of the pleasure provided by one of the most entertaining suspense plays to come down the pike in quite some time.
October, 1962 (World Premiere) continues performances (Eves: Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m./ Mats. Sat. 3 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m.) through January 28, 2007 at the New Jersey Repertory Company (Lumia Theatre), 179 Broadway, Long Branch, New Jersey 07740. Box Office: 732-229-3166; online www.njrep.org/.
October, 1962 by D.W. Gregory; directed by Matthew Arbour