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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Solid Production of Release Point
World Premiere Play at NJ Rep

Release Point
Gillian Andresen and
Michael Irvin Pollard

The premise of playwright Gino Dilorio's play Release Point is quite contrived, but it is also clever, intriguing and original. Dilorio has challenged himself and his audience by placing the central focus of his play on an unregenerate pedophile rapist and the indelible harm which his reprehensible crimes against others has brought to his own family. Although Release Point displays some missteps which make it ultimately unsatisfying, the play clearly demonstrates that Dilorio is a talented and thoughtful playwright.

Six months ago, Mike was released from jail after serving nine years for the forcible rapes of underage girls. His now twentyish daughter Kerry has secretly contacted Mike and arranged to meet him in a wooded area on a hill overlooking a high school school baseball field. On that field, his son and her brother, Mikey, a high school senior who is being scouted for baseball college scholarships, is on the mound pitching for his school. Mike is an expert pitching coach and Mikey is not getting much in the way of useful instruction from his school team manager. Thus, Kerry, no slouch herself when it comes to sports coaching ability, is seeking out Mike's expertise to help her brother improve his game. As Mike is not allowed to be at or near any facility where minors congregate, Mike can only observe his son play by viewing his games through binoculars from the wooded area.

As events play out on over a period of several weeks, Kerry more and more shifts her conversations with her father to his crimes. Her awareness of his crimes, his absence from her life, and the pain which others have inflicted upon her because of widespread public knowledge of her father's crimes have taken a heavy toll upon her. She feels a need to understand and excoriate her father in order to purge herself of the hatred that she feels toward him.

The writing is vivid and provides for involving and, at times, powerful conflict. Mike's evil compulsion is rightly neither excused nor downplayed. However, Mike is portrayed as a complete monster, selfish and stupid in all matters excepting how to pitch. Mike is depicted as incurable and perpetually dangerous. This is the only basis for sympathy for Mike, but as such, is unexploited and, likely, unintended. Certainly, Mike has more than enough sympathy for himself. However, despite the easy satisfaction to be found in hating a pedophile, a bit more dimension would make Mike more interesting.

On the other hand, the concerned, accomplished, analytical and totally sympathetic Kerry is extremely scarred and conflicted, still far from being able to understand just what she is seeking in order to find closure from her father.

However, the major dramatic moment in which Kerry tells Mike of his crime which most angered and disgusted her is problematic. While a child placed in her situation might respond with thoughts and behaviors which I could never contemplate, it seems ludicrous to me that anyone could believe that watching a video of another pedophile commit a crime would be worse than performing the same crime oneself. Dilorio doubles down on this, embracing this idea by putting in Kelly's mouth the standard and dubious line that prosecutors routinely and religiously roll out to arouse the fury of jurors and the citizenry in order to maximize sentences for viewers of child pornography. Is it conceivable that Kelly might speak such a line? Well, yes. However, that does not mean that Dilorio's admirable Kelly should be saddled with it.

SPOILER ALERT: At the end of the play, there is a penultimate, bungled scene involving a school girl who discovers Mike on his wooded hill. The construction of the play makes it appear to be the concluding scene (making the latter feel anticlimactic). Its writing and performance set up expectations which are upended unconvincingly; and Mike's explanation for his behavior in this scene and his explanation of anticipated future behaviors contradicts our knowledge of Mike.
END OF SPOILER

Michael Irvin Pollard delivers a richly detailed, edgy performance as Mike. Tightly coiled and ready to uncoil and lash out at any moment, Pollard employs his entire body to bring us the powerful presence of a dangerous, desperate man on the edge. Jenny Vallancourt is compelling and sympathetic as she conveys a wide array of emotions as Kelly. Vallancourt effectively aids Dilorio in making the conflicted Kelly coherent and moving. Six local school girls alternate in the role of Kayla, a pubescent schoolgirl who comes across a threatening Mike in the wood. Gillian Andresen was convincing and involving as Kayla at the performance reviewed, making me feel fortunate to have seen her perform. I don't doubt but that those who saw either Felicia Aschettino, Emily Capriotti, Laura Diorio, Tina Siciliano, or Isabel Wallace as Kayla felt the same about each of them.

Director Joel Stone has elicited strong performances from his entire cast, achieving superb pace and integration in the complex interplay between Pollard and Vallancourt. It would seem that by now I would have run out of words to describe the lush and playable scenery of N.J. Rep's magnificent set designer Jessica Parks. If anything, Parks has outdone herself on this theatre's narrow, deep stage. Her hilly, grassy landscape sports almost two dozen trees, rocks and boulders, flowers, plants and scattered flowers, weeds and leaves, and a long winding dirt path, all backed by a diorama-like tree and skyscape. It is most impressive, strongly evocative, and eminently playable.

Release Point continues performances (Evenings: Thursday, Friday, Saturday 8 pm/ Matineess: Saturday 3 pm; Sunday 2 pm through September 23, 2012, at the New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, New Jersey 07740; box office: 732-229-3166; online: www.njrep.org.

Release Point by Gino Dilorio; directed by Joel Stone

Cast
Mike…………..Michael Irvin Pollard
Kerry…………….Jenny Vallancourt
Kayla………… (br) (Alternating) Gillian Andresen, Felicia Aschettino, Emily Capriotti,
Laura Diorio, Tina Siciliano. Isabel Wallace


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- Bob Rendell



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