Sunday, July 15, 2018

Production of “And All the Dead Lie Down” better than script at con-con

“The purpose of a workshop production is to provide a preview staging of a new work in order to gauge audience and critical reaction, following which some parts of the work may be adjusted or rewritten before the work's official premiere.” 

Seeing Harrison David Rivers’, “And All the Dead Lie Down,” which is getting its local premiere before the scripts national world premiere later this year, resulted in an interesting conundrum.  The script, which is getting its third workshop here, actually gets a better production than the work, itself, seemingly deserves.

In publicity, the story is described as “Alvin and Foss spend Saturdays together. That’s the rule. That’s the routine – no work, no phone calls and no leaving the apartment. But when an unexpected call from Foss’s delinquent brother upsets the couples’ usual balance, the day becomes a minefield of long suppressed resentments and hurt feelings. The fact that one of them is HIV+ and the other is negative, just exacerbates the situation.  “And All the Dead Lie Down” is a portrait of a couple at a crossroads, a couple pondering the questions – Is love enough to sustain us… And is it worth the risk?”

The tryout material describes the lead characters as: 

“Alvin, male, 30’s-Mid-40’s, gay man in a committed, long-term relationship with Foss; he is HIV-. A playwright. Cerebral. From a wealthy family, he grew up with privilege. Experiencing block – both in writing and in his relationship. They’re trying to figure out how to make it work. There is nudity.” 

Foss, male. 20’s-30’s. African American, Gay man in a committed, long-term relationship with Alvin; he is HIV+. A teacher. Playful, fun – a counter to Alvin’s sometimes stuffed shirt. Raised more blue collar and poor – wrong side of the tracks. Close to his brother – who he bails out financially. There is nudity.” 

In addition, there is Danny, Foss’s elder brother.  He is a “player” who drifts, seemingly without purpose.  He has an air of menace about him.   

Usually, at a workshop, the author is present so that they can judge audience reaction and have an opportunity for some feedback.  In this case, Rivers was not in attendance, so the idea of the play being workshopped seems like an oxymoron.  Why workshop a play when the very purpose of doing so, improvement of the script by the writer getting feedback, is eliminated?

If Rivers were here, he probably would have been exposed to comments such as, “the play is too long, especially the first act, which is filled with redundancy and too much exposition.”  “The upbringing tale of brothers Alvin and Danny and their overbearing father unnecessarily gets repeated over and over.”  “Alvin’s numerous statements of endearment get clawing after a while.”  “The language is often unnatural and doesn’t always give the actors a chance to develop meaningful feelings and reaction.”  On the other hand, “though the unnatural language continues, the second act is more focused and purpose driven.”

The con-con production exceeds the script.  Ismael Lara’s direction milks everything it can.  The show is well-paced, the cast (MJ Mihalic, Brenton Sullivan and Anthony Lanier) are focused, and the actors nicely texture their lines. 

Clyde Simon’s contemporary set fits the lines of the play’s description and becomes a fourth character.

Capsule Judgment:  If you’d like to see a play in the process of development, then “And All the Dead Lie Down,” could be your thing.  It is not a well-crafted script, but the directing and acting are excellent.

“And All the Dead Lie Down” runs through July 28, 2018, at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood.  For information and reservations call 216-687-0074 or go to

Next up at con-con: “The Casual Tree Ward,” a world premiere of local actor and playwright Robert Hawkes’s look at The goddess Freyja (or is she?) is tending Yggdrasil, the World Ash Tree (or is it?) Trying to protect it from increasing drought.  Does the world really depend on this single tree?  Hmmm.