He silently endures a thousand invisible torments as "The Man" in Neal Utterback's play about a possible second coming, and confirms that no other actor in St. Louis can do more (and more movingly) with less help from a script. A few years ago, I was completely taken by surprise with his work in an otherwise negligible role as the disgraced father of a celebrity reindeer, and (more recently) by the way he threw himself into the obviously ridiculous role of a veiled Biblical temptress. But after seeing him as a battered and bleeding hostage, bound and gagged in a crummy New York apartment, there is no more room for doubt.
I realize, of course, that I've utterly ruined him with my extravagant praise, setting up this cherubic guy's guy as the next Olivier. It may be the cruelest thing any critic can do to a talented young person, and he will doubtless curse my name when his life is brought to a premature end by fast cars and faster women, five or ten years from now. But I doubt the author of seconds had any conception (immaculate, or otherwise) that he would ever get a young actor with so much understated power in the central role. If Mr. Utterback had foreseen such an affecting, nearly wordless performance, he almost certainly would have forgone such clunky cinematic tricks as overlapping dialog and the stage equivalent of "quick cutting" between scenes, both of which barely pass for edgy, until second finally develops into an eerie, funny story in its own right, about halfway through. All this play (and, perhaps any drama) really needs is someone like Mr. Blanquart, tied up in the corner, to fill the evening with terrible implications.
Fortunately, the play also has some extremely talented people who actually get to talk and move around on stage. Kelley Ryan gives a wonderfully subtle and nuanced performance as a young woman who's screwed up her life rather badly, and Bess Moynihan contrasts a sort of Judy Holliday world-weariness against her own stunning sexuality, as a beautiful prostitute. Adam Flores is remarkably natural as the goofy sidekick to the towering Robert A. Mitchell, in charge of the hostage drama, and B. Weller is fine as an everyman with a terrible secret. The splendid Kirsten Wylder keeps things moving as an ambitious TV reporter.
Director Deanna Jent maintains a sense of urgency throughout, but still manages to allow a great comedic tone to surface every few minutes.
A regional premiere, second continues through December 16, 2007 at the beautiful new Ivory Theater, 7622 Michigan Ave., between Loughborough and Germania, about four blocks east of I-55 in far south St. Louis. For information call (314) 752-5075 or visit them on-line at www.nptco.org.
Photo: Deanna Jent