Jimmy King, Aaron Rossini, Karl Gregory and Craig
Wesley Divino as they appear in From White Plains
(Photo credit: Jacob J. Goldberg)
Contemplating the future success of this blazing play, squired so carefully and triumphantly by the exciting, new Fault Line Theatre Company to its premises in the splendid, New Pershing Square Signature Center which has not, I believe, previously presented any other company’s work than their own, it’s happily disquieting to think of the different paths before them: which should they choose? To try to continue along their own, newly trod path as they have here with Michael Perlman’s briskly, brusquely jolting play – he directed, too – or go with the likely flow of the forces? Which could mean moving a couple of blocks to Broadway, re-casting, re-directing, re-designing, re-pricing, taking the big shot at the Big Time? Or – what? The future is electric.
Sorry. How cart before the horse, if anyone understands that old metaphor anymore, because From White Plains is totally today in its taken-for-granted idiom even as it unfolds a brutal story old as time from different viewpoints and unnervingly imperative import: the way the human animal savages the outsider. Thirtyish John (absolutely splendid Craig Wesley Divino) and his bud, Ethan (cracklingly intense Aaron Rossini) explode on stage in shock, watching a video of the Oscar Awards film about the suicide of a gay high school student bullied to death by Ethan, his classmate, the very same Ethan watching this video. Who doesn’t know what to do or say, doesn’t even remember the kid. But John does, and his suspicion is palpable. Ethan’s girl friend won’t answer his calls.
Almost simultaneously, Dennis (excellent Karl Gregory) who made the film, and his boy friend Gregory (equally good Jimmy King) are beside themselves with joy. Dennis has won an Oscar! Skinny, gay, dorky Dennis! Greg’s Dennis! Dennis cannot contain himself, dashes to prepare a web video explicating his reasons for making the film about poor, dead Mitchell, hounded to death by Ethan. Greg nervously tries to counter Dennis’ over-the-top hubris but it’s falling on deaf ears. Dennis is unleashed. He cannot stop. He’s carried his fear and humiliation and feelings of worthlessness too long. Mitchell has died but he has survived and Ethan has to pay.
And Ethan is paying. His girl friend is gone. Even his job is gone. And his best friend, John? John is suddenly deeply involved in his own whirl of getting married and doesn’t seem to have time for him. Ethan’s world is crashing. His Facebook account is so full of vituperation he can’t stand it, he has to cancel his account. What is he going to do?
Greg’s pleas to Dennis to calm down, try to be happy with their love, to marry, cannot prevail over the released, pent up anger driving Dennis. What does he want?
Playwright Perlman weaves the scenes seamlessly in designer Tristan Jeffers’ handsome, multifunctional setting. John and Ethan’s space becomes Dennis and Greg’s space, two different worlds the same, their cell phones the same, their laptops, the same. Director Perlman gives the straight guys beer bottles to drink from, ball games to follow on video, false note distinctions but otherwise, their clothes, their gadgets, their living spaces are the same. And some kid, fifteen years ago, was hounded to death because he was different? Because he was gay? Have the technological advances that have become commonplace empowered the powerless to equality? The human savage, has he learned, or remained the same? Playwright Perlman has to bring Dennis face to face with Ethan. And, of course, he does. We need him to. We are embroiled.
From White Plains (through March 9)
Pershing Square Signature Center Studio, 480 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit www.ticketcentral.com
Running time: 90 minutes