Saturday, June 20, 2015

Review: Love of Doom

You ever see a show where the conflict could easily be solved with a simple line or action but instead there are an abundance of senseless "reasons" why you're stuck sitting through an entire play where what should happen does happen anyway? Though the title likely is the answer why, Easier Said Than Done is a relationship drama that should be considered a comedy due to the engineered situation.
Written by Paul John DeSena, Easier Said Than Done follows two couples that should really just switch spouses but are tied down by fear and irrational reasoning. This is a play about loving the wrong person and finding ways to self-destruct in response to the choices of the past. Married couple Nathan and Catherine are set to renew their vows after five years of marriage. But before that day happens, friend Nikki, who has a thing with Nathan, reveals she suspects her husband Justin is cheating on her. Her suspicion is correct as Justin and Catherine, a pair with a very storied past, are engaged in an affair of their own. Truths are revealed and the past comes screaming back as four people attempt to figure out how to be adults despite their high school actions. DeSena sets the tone of despicable actions from the start when we watch Nathan and Nikki engage in something they should not. Something we learn has happened before. From this moment, you see them as villains. Despite learning about the other duo and their extramarital affair, you've already sympathized with them regardless of their ways. You slowly understand that their true love is masking retaliation. By picking the order of events, DeSena establishes the rules of right and wrong. Had the affair been swapped, a new narrative might have formed. As the play goes on, nothing seems to go right for anyone. From destruction of property to the reveal of a pregnancy, it’s a comedy of errors. For a play about people and relationships, DeSena's characters have little to no redeeming qualities. Justin is spiteful. Catherine is feeble. Nikki is manipulative. And Nathan, well he’s just an asshole. You almost wish that Nathan were completely coherent when Catherine spills the beans about the identity of the father because you want to see him truly feel the pain of losing everything. Rooting against characters is never a good sign.
photo courtesy of JC Vasquez
The unfortunate thing for Easier Said Than Done is the company is split down the middle in strength. Dana Leigh Snyder as Catherine and Christopher Stokes as Justin offer adequate performances. Emily DeSena as Nikki and Michael S. Rehse as Nathan struggle majorly. Snyder and Stokes show their potential for great depth. They have a natural ability that allowed them to find something within their script scenes together. Snyder has control on stage. Stokes has an aura of a Williams’ leading man, like Brick or Stanley Kowalski. Emily DeSena seemed misplaced in the piece. The piece strives on chemistry and DeSena lacked any with her male counterparts. Nathan is unsavory. And Rehse's performance resembled a used car salesman. You listen but you don't believe. Rehse's choices on stage were large and theatrical, not fitting into the world of the play. His portrayal was unreal for a character that was such a driving factor.
The direction by Kristen Penner couldn't save DeSena’s weak script. With a storage bench that oddly represented a beach and two rehearsal cubes, the set is basic yet unclear. Additionally, with a three quarter audience situation and little variation to work with, Penner's staging suffered. Penner had her actors circling the scenic elements in a game of cat and mouse. With little to work with, it caused sight line issues as well as felt monotonous. The lighting and sound design by Melissa Farinelli was quite bothersome. It’s possible that many of the lighting issues were to no fault of Farinelli’s as she used a festival light plot, but Farinelli used instruments that cast unfortunate shadows and forced a giant circle on the upstage wall as it appeared to be the only light that could hit Penner's blocking. Had Farinelli advised Penner to these issues, perhaps the staging could have been aided. The soundscape that Farinelli used was distracting at times, sounding more like generic sound cue file than built design. There was also a lack of consistency between cued door slams and actor generating knocking. When it doubt, take it out.
When bringing life to a piece in a festival, it’s always important to know what can and cannot realistically be achieved. Easier Said Than Done appeared to be lost in a festival setting, not knowing the limitations and struggles. But festival aside, DeSena’s script lacks appeal.