Monday, February 24, 2014

Review: Attend the Tale of Perfect Revenge

Let's face it, we've all had revenge fantasies. A long time ago someone does you wrong so years after the dust has settled, you seek them out, lure them to your apartment and kill them. Wait. Too far? Maybe we're all not like that but in Ryan Sprague's East in Red there's a whole lot of revenge going on with the backdrop of a psycho killer lurking through the Lower East Side.
The play follows Aaron, an effeminate though not necessarily gay hair stylist, who invites a prostitute over. Clue number one! After it's established that sex is off the table, the two strangers begin to talk leading to truths and pasts. The first half of Sprague's script is a beautiful case study in character. Two characters, who necessarily should never meet, are given the opportunity to come clean with no strings attached. But when the truths begin to reveal motives, the play takes a turn toward the action. Before this turn, Sprague expertly places subtle plot points that you need to remember, allowing for the "oh no they didn't" moments to land. Without spoiling the fun, once we discover who Aaron and Marie actually are, we see their true character unleashed, representing how strangers in any circumstance will act a part in order to get what they want. With this backdrop of a serial killer and only two characters, the information makes you believe that we've been watching Sweeney Bateman the Demon Stylist of the East Village. But just when you think you've figured out what's going to happen next, be warned, you're wrong. Well at least for the time being. We're granted so many twists and turns that make it exciting to see what's coming next. However there may be one too many, wishing the play ended after the slice and dice, not allowing for the last big reveal.
With a bookend of scenes, for the most part it's a two-character play. Fortunately there is a sensational performance that makes you wish Aaron was granted a television series of his own. Patrick Andrew Jones as Aaron is phenomenal. From his perfectly calculated physicality and mannerisms to his wonderful vocal inflections, he gives a standout performance. You can't help but cheer for the potential psychopath with the deep-rooted pain and empathy. Jones finds a humor within Aaron that balances out his beautiful moments of distress giving the character depth. Emily Tuckman as Marie, the damaged goods with a vengeance, puts up a good fight against Jones and Aaron. Because Tuckman knows when she needs Marie to play a performer, it allows the big switch but be so shocking. In their supporting roles, Jonah Nathan and Sam Yarabek both take time in their moments in the spotlight.
Director Mike Backes does a great job helping his actors tell Sprague's story in a limited space. Set in a dingy apartment, Backes finds the safe spots in the room for the characters as well as well as calculating the importance of special relationship during certain key plot points. You know if Aaron is by his music or sitting on the couch next to Marie whether he's sharing fact or preparing for something. Possibly due to the nature of the festival setting there were some iffy lighting choices. But the device of establishing a "story telling past" light was a smart choice that wanted to be executed sharper. There were some sadly executed rope tying and fight and weapon work that took you out of the action and reminded you we're at the theater.
East in Red is a smart and fun script that keeps you on the edge of your seat. If you're a fan of mystery, noir, or plain old excitement, this is for you. If you like watching a star be born on stage, Patrick Andrew Jones has that covered.