Saturday, April 10, 2004

Free Will (convergence-continuum)

'FREE WILL' confronts wanton lust at convergence-continuum

Clyde Simon, convergence-continuum’s Artistic Director and Brian Breth, its Executive Director remind us in the program notes for their season opening production of ‘FREE WILL & WANTON LUST’ that the theatre was founded with the idea of “going against the grain” and doing “in-your-face style theatre.”

Nicky Silver is a hot, hip, now playwright who has much to say. Much in the tradition of Edward Albee and Arthur Kopit, Silver writes of the absurdities of life. His works and the play selection preferences of convergence-continuum are a perfect match.

‘FREE WILL & WANTON LUST’ is about Claire, a wealthy, self-absorbed 40-something married woman who takes lovers half her age to allow herself to feel young, beautiful and fulfilled. Her current playmate is Tony, a studly artist who hopes Claire’s connections will help further his career. Claire’s children are Amy, a 15-year-old who is bitter, intoxicated and possibly pregnant, and 20-year-old son, Philip, who is in search for self. It’s a play which discusses loneliness and the nature of humans.

Silver, is less concerned with structure than with words. Unfortunately, a little more structure and less verbiage would have helped. The first act is hysterically funny, exposes us to the characters and sets the stage for a lesson to be taught in Act II. The second act unfortunately fails to satisfy. It features several very, very long monologues which go well beyond making their point regarding metaphors centering on spitting and the sexual nature of men.

Clyde Simon’s directing is basically competent though the pacing and character development could have been enhanced. After a while the play got very draggy and the line between believability and the bizarre was often unnecessarily crossed. Part of this is the writing, especially of the less than satisfying second act.

Lauri Hammer handled the difficult characterization of Claire quite well. The character is written to be shallow, vain and self-centered, which makes it difficult to believe she has anything important to say. This, plus some surface level acting, caused a problem for her Act II monologue in which Hammer manages to keep our attention even if she fails to gain our interest in her fate.

Lisa Bradley tries vainly to give us a creditable Amy. However, she misses the delicate balance needed to imbue her character with the depth and desperation of the swings between teenage brat and the confused moral center of the play.

Geoffrey Hoffman as the young lover, doesn’t fulfill the physical requirements needed for the body builder-stud role. His acting however developed the cockiness of the character well, but missed the shadings necessary to illustrate in Tony’s true nature.

As Philip, the son, Steve Needham was excellent in the shorter scenes. He, as did Hammer, had difficulty in commanding attention for his very long monologue. The depravity of the mother-son relationship was wonderfully captured in his emotional collapse at the play’s curtain as he was rocked in his mother’s incestuous arms.

Allyson Rosen, as the disturbed Vivian, came on stage like a Nazi storm trooper and created a character that was more laughable than believable. This overdone characterization overshadowed the fine scene when she explained the history that caused her to be so emotionally detached.

Capsule Judgement: The dark comedy, "FREE WILL AND WANTON LUST," turns heads with its title alone. It is an interesting play that needed a more riveting and textured production. If for no other reason, it’s worth seeing to appreciate what has made Nicky Silver the new “infant terrible” of modern playwrights.