Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A winning dark horse

Mark Vashro and Erez Rose hook up in Dark Play. Photo by Danielle Fauteux Jacques.

I caught up late to Dark Play, or Stories for Boys, at the Apollinaire Theatre in off-the-grid Chelsea, so this note is inevitably a post-mortem. Which I feel bad about, because Dark Play proved to be the best local production of the year so far, and deserved an even larger audience than it got. Director Danielle Fauteux Jacques may have been lucky in her cast - mostly talented Emerson types who were at ease with the script's Dawson's-Creek-gone-bad dialogue and aggressive semi-nudity (if Cam4-style antics disturb you, this is not your play). But her direction was also smoothly assured, and she managed something like the perfect pace as well as a cool, sympathetic-yet-distant tone. Fauteux Jacques couldn't quite disguise the growing gaps in Carlos Murillo's script, but the show's slick surface distracted us from that pretty much till the finish.

The play, in case you haven't heard, loosely follows the true story of a confused lad who posed as a lass on the Internet, seduced another lonely teen in a chat room, and then, rejected once his gender was revealed, attempted to engineer his own murder by his former "lover." It's quite a story, and I really wish Murillo had managed to do it justice. But he hasn't, I'm afraid, not by a long shot - Dark Play has a compelling set-up, but begins to coast on its knowingness just as a truly disturbing abyss begins to open up beneath its characters. When we first meet 14-year-old "Nick," (a scarily poised Erez Rose), it's enough to merely hear him say "I like to make shit up," to know we're about to go on a rollercoaster ride with "reality." But by the final, ironic coda, we feel we've a right to have seen behind the veil of Nick's self-deluding ego, but instead we're in precisely the same place regarding his character as we were at his opening line, with far too many questions about his true nature (and the fate of his "friend") left hanging; the ride has taken us right back to our starting point, despite some truly heinous "shit" going down.

So the talented Perez can't really take us to the dark places promised by the playwright; still, he's so on top of the hyper-articulate, totally-self-aware mode of teenage life today, that he's always superficially compelling (as well as utterly believable as a 14-year-old). And the supporting ensemble was just as skillful; Mark Vashro brought a sweet goofiness to Adam, Nick's target in chat, while Christine Busler managed just the right level of digitally-conjured "feeling" as Nick's chatroom persona (who describes herself as "a combination of Hilary Duff and Avril Lavigne, with a little Natalie Portman"). Indeed, one of the production's gambits was watching the synthetic interactions of the Internet play out before us in flesh and blood, via supporting players Lorna Nogueira and Brian Quint (whom I once directed), who brought hilarious life to these wayward teens' digital avatars as well as the clueless parents and self-dramatizing teachers who crossed their paths. All in all this was a sterling production from Apollinaire, and one that is sure to be remembered come award time.

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