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San Francisco by Richard Connema

The Death of the Novel at San Jose Repertory Theatre

Death of the Novel
Patrick Kelly Jones and Vincent Kartheiser
San Jose Repertory Theatre opens its season with the world premiere of Jonathan Marc Feldman's drama The Death of a Novel starring Vincent Kartheiser. This is the story of brilliant, young novelist Sebastian Justice who, after writing his first successful novel, has become a depressed agoraphobic living in an upscale apartment in Manhattan.

The playwright is the vice chairman of the California Committee South Human Rights Watch and the play seems like a work in progress. Feldman, also a film writer, tries to cram too much into this two hour and thirty minute drama. There is just too much to grasp, including scenes that are in the mind of the protagonist. The characters in the play are really not believable, but that is no fault of the actors who rise about the script.

When Sebastian was a teenager, he witnessed the fall of the World Trade Center from his bedroom window and then wrote a bestselling novel called "The Seventh Day" about what he witnessed. He tells his friends, "I just figured out what was the book everyone wanted to see from a boy who saw the towers fall, and I wrote it." After the book becomes a financial success, he becomes a recluse. In fact, he has not set foot out of his beautiful apartment for two years. He spends his days watching television, playing video games, and having sex with a call girl. This guy even stalks people online just to get his kicks. He is one fucked up individual.

Sebastian has one friend, Philip (Patrick Kelly Jones), who visits. Also, a therapist sent by his book publisher, Dr. Perry Cray (Amy Pietz), comes by weekly in an attempt to break his "writer's block." She does not help much and even her questions seem phony. Sebastian is quite the chatterbox and talks nonstop in the first act about global warming and yuppie emblems like Starbucks and Facebook. Finally, a Saudi woman Sheba (Vaishnavi Sharma) enters his life, but the question for the audience to ponder is: Is this woman a fake or a real Saudi princess?

The second act is better written and there is chemistry between Sebastian and Sheba. It seems like two different plays, since there is a tormenting strangeness in the first act and now we see an emotional overload between the two characters that feels false. Some scenes are a fantasy trip in Sebastian's mind.

Vincent Kartheiser, who plays unctuous adman Peter Campbell on television's "Mad Men," works his craft, but, at least at the performance I attended, it takes him a while to morph into an eccentric, intellectual wit. However, he gives an engaging performance in the second act. Vaishnavi Sharma is charismatic as the sensual Sheba. There is wonderful chemistry between the two.

Patrick Jones is cheerfully passionate in the role of Philip. Amy Pietz gives an intelligent first rate performance as the shrink Perry, while Zarah Mahler is appealing as the hooker and wannabe writer Clair. The costumes by Denitsa Bliznakova, especially the delicious outfit worn by Vaishnavi Sharma, are stylish. John Iacovelli's set of an upscale Manhattan apartment is a standout, including a balcony and realistic buildings in the distance.

Director Rick Lombardo does capture the frenzy of the new love of Sebastian in some brilliantly film-like montages, and in the second act the writing is undeniably sharp and smart.

The Death of the Novel plays through September 22 at the San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. For tickets call 408-367-7255 or on line at www.sjrep.com. Coming up next at San Jose Rep is Mark St. Germain's Freud's Last Session opening on October 11 and running through November 4th.


Photo: Kevin Berne


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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