Honor and the River: Solid Coming of Age Drama with Substantial Potential
The story is narrated by its main protagonist Eliot, an introverted and delicate New England prep school student who has gone out for crew in order to fulfill the school requirement for sports participation, even though he cannot even swim. Eliot has a crush on Honor, his muscular and more socially popular crew partner. The boys are brought into further contact when a romance develops between Wawa, Eliot's widowed mother, and Honor's widowed father, Alcestis Roberts. Although he treats Eliot derisively and cruelly, Honor is oddly attracted to him.
It seems that Honor had gotten into trouble by violating school rules in "visiting" a student on the girls campus across the river. He wants Eliot to row there after dark in order to bring the girl a small sculpture that he has made for her. Honor offers to teach Eliot how to swim so that he will be able to perform the task. When Eliot's act on his behalf becomes known to his father, Honor lies in order to place the entire blame upon Eliot. Eliot acquiesces to the lie rather than allow any consequences to befall Honor.
Andy Phelan anchors the entire play magnificently by totally inhabiting Eliot. Phelan has to deliver extended monologues in which he explores and probes Eliot's developing, ever-changing psychological mind set. He does so in a totally naturalistic manner, always remaining an awkward and uncertain adolescent. Narrating events, Phelan enhances the short story memoir style which author Anton Dudley has effectively employed here.
David Michael Holmes is also effective as the jock-like Honor. As Dudley fills in Honor's complexities, Holmes' performance manages to contain the many facets of Honor's character and personality remarkably well. There are colors here that require examination in order for the viewer to accept them all in one person, but it is worth the effort.
Carolyn Popp delivers an emotive performance as Wawa. Popp's line readings unfortunately come across as ... line readings.
The veteran Reathel Bean delivers a solid, straightforward performance as Alcestis. However, the role itself is a bundle of contradictions that author Dudley fails to integrate into a recognizable human being. The lack of any consistency in his character from moment to moment weakens the play. Dudley allows Alcestis to be seen as a decent gentleman when he acknowledges to Eliot (and provides an alibi for) his destructive behavior toward his son. When he then does nothing to undo the damage that he has caused, Dudley still gives him a pass. It is as if Dudley had based Alcestis on someone close to him whom he cannot go too far in consciously criticizing.
Director Nancy Robillard has nicely captured the storytelling feel of the play. Aided by Robert Monaco's simple, but imaginative set design which incorporates the use of a (racing) shell suspended by ropes from overhead which when suspended upside down becomes a dinner table, and Dave Feldman's evocative lighting, Robillard has given the production a fluid, cinematic feel.
Although this Luna Stage production is a world premiere, the play has been workshopped at Vassar and was presented as part of Ariel Tepper's first Summer Play Festival on Theatre Row. As presently revised and crisply and imaginatively staged, Honor and the River makes for entrancing storytelling. With some clarification of character, it could be even more special.
Honor and the River continues performances (Thurs. 7:30 p.m./ Fri. & Sat. 8 p.m./ Sun. 2 p.m.) through February 25, 2007 at Luna Stage, 695 Bloomfield, Montclair, NJ 07042. Box Office: 973-744-3309/ online: www.lunastage.org.
Honor and the River by Anton Dudley; directed by Nancy
Cast (in alphabetical order)