Playwright Lyle Kessler, internationally known for Orphans, closes out The Barrow Group’s 2018-2019 season with his new play Perp.
Meet Douglass (Ali Arkane), a simple man who likes to watch TV, take walks in the woods and study bugs for hours on end. He lives with his mother, who makes him a nice lunch every day and leaves the door unlocked because he always loses his key.
Douglass (he doesn’t mind if you call him Doug) has been picked up during one of his nature walks in the woods by two wise-cracking, fast-talking detectives, Harvey (Paul Ben-Victor, Robbers, First Born) and Jack (Tricia Alexandro, The Unrepeatable Moment, Snapshot). Harvey and Jack, hell-bent on meeting their arrest quotas, convince Doug that he should plead guilty for killing and raping (not necessarily in that order) a young woman jogging through the woods. They convince him that once he’s arrested and in prison, the true perpetrator will get sloppy and strike again, after which time they will make their true arrest and Doug will be freed, given the Key to the City, receive attention from the media, and kisses from kind ladies.
Next up, meet Myron (Craig Mums Grant, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, A View from 151st), Doug’s new prison cellmate. Over time, games of checkers and deceptively wise conversation, Myron eventually reveals to Doug that the true killer has struck several more times, and he helps Doug see how he’s been hornswoggled by the detectives. Myron decides he’s been put on Earth to do one Good Deed, to smuggle Doug out of prison with the help of the prison Trash Man, in order for Doug to apprehend the killer himself and clear his good name.
Later, we find Douglass sitting in the woods holding an earthworm, as Harry (Javier Molina, NBC’s Blacklist) stands by, unnoticed:
Douglass: Little bug, little earthworm, crawling through the earth, night and day, day and night, Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall, never tired, never weary, crawling blindly on and on fulfilling God’s Divine purpose. Don’t be scared, don’t be frightened, little earthworm, I mean you no harm. You are the lowest of the low, but you are also the Holy of Holies. You are the mystery we cannot comprehend. God’s incomprehensible design. For life, for Creation. You are the Chosen One. The Messenger of God. And I hear your message. It’s one of love and acceptance. For life, for existence. You do not question. You do not judge. “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”
Harry: May I join you?
Alexandro and Ben-Victor as the soul-stained detectives are excellently cast, playing off each other without a single misstep. The gender-blind casting of Alexandro as Jack is especially funny when she gets to deliver the hilarious line “I got a hard-on a mile long” without blinking.
Grant is brilliant as the soulful felon Myron, locked away for an unknown crime but brimming with goodness. Molina is spot-on as the creepy, anguished killer looking for love and redemption.
Arkane’s professional debut in Perp couldn’t have been more perfect. Lamb and earthworm, innocent and funny, his simpleton Douglass delivers unknowing insight to all the play’s tainted characters; a relief for those who want it, confounding for those who don’t.
The scenic design by Edward T. Morris is expertly minimalist, as are the costumes by Kristin Isola. The lighting design by Marika Kent is delicate and purposeful.
Director Lee Brock expertly guides the actors through the play’s numerous important moments, ensuring that the almost poetic material is delivered conversationally yet with maximum impact.
Upon leaving the theater, I slowly walked down the street, pondering what I had just seen. My reverie was interrupted by a disgruntled man who asked, “Did you just see that play? I hated it.” My sense of wonder completely unmarred, I smiled back into his troubled face and said, “I loved it.”
Perp is exquisite. Not everyone will get it, but those who do will truly see its light.
Perp (through April 11, 2019)
The Barrow Group, 312 West 36th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.barrowgroup.org
Running time: 88 minutes with no intermission