Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
dark play or stories for boys
Nick is fourteen years old and a victim of bullying. Thus he spends most of his free time in an Internet chat room, "the one place kids my age and demeanor could escape the cruel and unusual punishments assigned by your peers." It's there that he sees the profile of sixteen-year old Adam, who is online for only one reason: "I want to fall in love." Nick decides that Adam is too gullible to be believed and deserves to be taught a lesson, so Nick creates a new online persona: Rachel, who describes herself as a combination of Hillary Duff, Avril Lavigne and Natalie Portman. She's Adam's fantasy girl, and Nick uses Rachel to lure Adam into performing acts that grow increasingly sordid.
Why? Well, he uses as his inspiration his drama teacher's example of "dark play"an acting game in which "certain players know the rules and other players don't." But there's nothing pleasant about this game the way Nick plays it, and there's nothing appealing about watching Nick play mind games with Adam. Even if we can't sympathize with Nick, we should at least get a kick out of seeing him carry out his low-key, one-man terror campaign. But, as played with a passive, pouty nonchalance by Robert DaPonte, Nick doesn't even seem to take much enjoyment in his evil behavior. He's not the type of villain you love to hate; instead, he's the type of villain you just hate. And Adam (Doug Greene) is so guileless and flat out stupid (not to mention underwritten) that it's hard to build up much sympathy for him as he slides further and further into a moral morass.
There's also no poetry to Murillo's dialogue. In a flashback framing scene (with Nick trying to explain himself to his college girlfriend), Nick describes the panic going through his mind: "The world around me slows like it's moving through peanut butter." That's not a terrible line the first time you hear it, but when it's repeated seven times in a 90-minute show, it can't help but sound inane and annoying.
Nick's drama teacher tells him, "The best theatre is theatre that challenges the audience. That provokes. That's dangerous." But, as staged by director Deborah Block, the problem with dark play is that it's not provocative enough. The sex scenes aren't sexy, and the violent climax is mechanical and sadly lacking in danger. Still, the supporting cast is fine, especially Krista Apple, who generates laughs and sympathy in a number of supporting roles; she gives the show its only touches of humanity.
Cyberstalking is a serious problem; parents really should be concerned about whether their children are safe when they're online. But even though Murillo's play was inspired by a true story, you won't gain many insights into this troubling issue from watching dark play. There's no story arc to Nickhe starts out slimy and unlikable, and he ends up slimy and unlikable. At the end of the tale, Nick has not learned any lessons from his monstrous behavior, and neither has the audience. Except, perhaps, to stay away from any future plays by Carlos Murillo.
dark play or stories for boys runs through December 7, 2008, and is presented by Theatre Exile at The Theatre at The Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival, 2111 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $15-$40 and are available by calling 215-922-4462 or online at www.theatreexile.org.
dark play or stories for boys