Monday, July 2, 2007

Guilty - July 2, 2007

Guilty was in previews the night I saw it and I went in absolutely cold. No idea what it was about, or whether it was a comedy or a drama.

I can safely say that I left the theater after a very long, intermission-less show in exactly the same state.

It is often said that live theater is about the words, the voice of the actor being the focal point and that film is about a story told without words, but that is a huge generalization and it does not mean that a play should be without action. Yet Nancy Manocherian's play is so lacking in action and so top heavy with words that one might believe that the theater is supposed to be a talk-fest. Even when nothing is being said. There is an axiom regarding drama, whether it be film or theater, that you should show rather than tell. Guilty tells rather than shows for nearly two full hours.

The first 55 minutes of this play take place in a living room, then a bedroom, and finally outdoors (there's some grass, so that's the hint that we're outside somewhere) before there is a single moment of actual action. In fact the entire time up until that very brief moment of 'action' (which takes place offstage) we hear six characters who have clearly known each other a long time, talk about another character (Richard) who we never meet. But sadly this is no Waiting For Godot. We are never told how these people know each other, and given the disparate types presented it might indeed be interesting to find out how they came to be friends.

Of course 'talky' plays are not uncommon, and some are quite wonderful, but usually there is something going on. In Guilty we are treated to characters sitting around talking. And I mean sitting around. At one point, while discussing psycho-therapy, Jake (Ned Massey) calls therapy "the opiate of the masses". Sadly watching this pseudo-group therapy is not the opiate of an audience - unless the goal is to lull the audience to sleep.

Director Kira Simring's staging is stagnant, as characters sit and sit and sit. There are nice moments during scene changes that hint at the potential for more dynamic direction but as scenes begin characters go right back to sitting around talking.

There is one very out of place, semi-surrealistic scene wherein Dori (Glory Gallo) debates with herself whether or not she can indulge her desire for an affair with her first love. He offers her an opportunity to show her photography in his gallery and this chance to be creative and explore a new sexuality as she verges on a mid-life crises tempts her. This scene actually has some of the most entertaining and lively moments in the entire play and Gallo is to be commended for pulling it off with aplomb and a delightful lack of self-consciousness. Unfortunately it is completely out of place in this show, particularly because the language verges on poetic while the rest of the play is straight-forward realism. And here I have to say that while it strives for realism, the dialogue throughout feels forced, as each character attempts to sound wittier than the next and fails miserably.

The set (Tim McMath) is simple and clean and serves multiple scenes very well. The sound design (Ken Hypes) is commendable, particularly during one of the rare 'action' scenes where the characters play pool.

There is a warning that there is brief nudity in this piece. I can only imagine this 'warning' is an attempt to pull in some audience, as the actual 'nudity' involves nothing more than a woman's back. If that's considered 'nudity' we should be careful at the beach.

Watching this play I felt I was watching dailies of some as yet unedited 'reality' tv show. As is typical with these omnipresent reality shows there is always a character that you like, that is fun to watch and just seems normal. In this show it is Adam (Darnell Williams). Williams is at ease and fully inhabits his character, but even though he corrects another character's misspelling of "enui" he cannot salvage this show from the "E.N.N.U.I." it projects.

Acorn Theater
410 West 42nd St.
New York, NY 10036
Tickets: 212-279-4200
Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes (no intermission)
Opens on July 5, 2007
Now in Previews
Closes on July 29, 2007