When I walk into a theater before a performance of a play, there are several things on my wish list.
I hope that if the play has faults, the actors will carry it on their shoulders to a place where we all can enjoy it. I hope that if the actors aren’t up to snuff, the play is of such quality that even weak performances can’t bring it down. I hope that if neither of the above happens, then the director will find something upon which we can all hang our hats.
Unfortunately, none of those things came true in "Use No Place Soon" the play by Mary K. Ryan that opened at the Alchemist Theatre Thursday night and runs through April 26.
The play is told with four characters. Tom, his wife Elle, his mother Diane and Leo, who is either a newspaper interviewer or a psychiatrist. The story is about some terrible crime Tom committed and the impact it has on his relationships.
Let’s start with the play, which starts with a gimmick.
From the earliest moments, all of the characters refer to the horrible crime that Tom has committed. Words like "despicable" and "outrageous" and "horrible" are used to describe this crime. But we never get told what the crime actually is until midway through the second act.
We get teased, and the hope, of course, is that we are on the edge of our seats waiting to hear what he did. By that time we actually found out, however, I could barely care what the crime was. Everything from a jaywalking ticket to mass murder seemed to be on the table, but after a while, I found myself saying, "Who cares?"
There are not many hard and fast rules to writing a good play. One of the most famous, however, is that you should show what happens rather than tell.
"Use No Place Soon," which Ryan also directed, is all tell and no show. The characters don’t so much speak as they lecture. On and on, until you want to shout, "Shut up already, and let somebody else talk." There are speeches about love and about truth and about lies and about parenting and about child abuse and ... you get the point.
Nobody talks to anybody else. They all have some huge point to make and dadgummit, they are going to make it whether it stops the entire play in its tracks or not.
The problem with all of this, of course, is that nobody seems like a real person. You’ve got Leo, who asks what he thinks are probing questions but are really just an excuse to let somebody else in the cast take off on the lecture train.
Okay. So we’ve got a play with lots of holes in it. Maybe sterling and experienced actors can rescue it.
Nope. Not even close.
Lines stopped and started all over the place. Maybe it was opening night jitters, but I don’t think so.
It got to the point where I started placing bets with myself about what the rest of the cast was doing when one of them was giving a speech. What we got was the head nod, the big sigh, the rolling of the eyes, the stare off into space, the turn away from whoever was talking, the clenching of fists and any number of manufactured reactions that had little or nothing to do with what the speaker was actually talking about.
The four cast members – Mark R. Neufang, Kaitlin McCarthy, Sara Pforr and Rick Berggreen – are all probably very nice people. But actors have to bring something to their characters. They have to add to the equation, not detract from it. Not only did I not have any sense of belief in any of the characters, I didn’t care whether I believed or not.
And finally, let’s get to the directing, done by the playwright herself.
There’s an old saying that a lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client.
Most times, that can also be said about a playwright and a director. I don’t think that another director would have been able to rescue this play, but it couldn’t have hurt. Another pair of eyes will see things that a playwright has trouble seeing about his or her own work.
I really want to find something nice to say about this whole thing so here it goes.
The space at Alchemist Theatre is a lovely space with a warm and eccentric lobby. It’s a pleasure to go there. It deserves so much better than it got with "Use No Place Soon," a title that doesn’t make any more sense to me after seeing the play than it did before I saw it.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published Sept. 18, 2014
The Dale Gutzman version of "Cabaret," which opened Wednesday night and runs through Sept. 28, is a dark retelling of a story that mixed sex, violence, longing and fear into two and half hours of mesmerizing theater. The menace of the play at Off the Wall Theatre is as intimate as any I have seen before.
Published Sept. 18, 2014
How many teams have players in their locker rooms who are in the kind of trouble currently dogging the NFL and that the teams are hiding with fingers crossed that they don't lose a player to suspension?
Published Sept. 18, 2014
Common Ground has an initiative called "Fair Play" that's designed to spark a significant improvement in school and public recreational facilities in Milwaukee County. It's a worthy initiative for the increasingly influential grassroots lobbying organization. But Dave Begel says it's blackmail.
Published Sept. 16, 2014
This has been a difficult week for the National Football League, the most popular sport in the country, by far. And the affairs of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Roger Goodell have raised a series of questions and which may be difficult to answer, but which deserve our best try at answers.
Published Sept. 15, 2014
Deborah Staples is an actor and an associate artist at the Milwaukee Rep. She is at the absolute top of her game and delivers memorable performances wherever she appears. It would seem that with her career and her family, there would be no room left. However, she has begun to scale a new mountain in her life as she steps behind the footlights to direct her first play.
Published Sept. 14, 2014
Sometimes stepping off the beaten path, or outside of the mainstream, can be fraught with peril but on occasion it can turn into a wonderful surprise and you pat yourself on the back for taking the big step. Such was my reaction after stepping into the deliciously tiny space of Theatre Unchained in order to see the production of "The Addams Family Musical."
Published Sept. 13, 2014
We may not have movie stars like California, oranges like Florida or corn like Iowa, but Wisconsin has a long list of excellent stuff we've given to the rest of the world. Here are the top 13 things that carry the "Made in Wisconsin" tag.
Published Sept. 12, 2014
The little Alchemist Theatre space is one of the real jewels in this city, and it comes alive in an amazing fashion with "Destiny, Deviltry & Dentistry," a hilarious collection of sketches running through Sept. 20.
Published Sept. 11, 2014
Political correctness has intruded on one of the most precious pillars of our government, a pillar that was embraced at the very beginning of this country.
Published Sept. 9, 2014
The Milwaukee Brewers can still run and hit and pitch and throw and catch as well as they ever could, but they aren't doing any of those things even decently now. And I think it's the fault of the manager.