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.
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