Friday, March 2, 2018

Review: The Epitome of a Relationship Play

By Michael Block

No one said relationships are easy. There are things that we see on the surface, but sometimes it’s what we don’t see, what happens behind closed doors, that truly define a relationship. Written by Chandy Bennett, Rut follows a rocky 24 hours between Sam and Charlie as their relationship is tested.
Rut is an intimate look at an abusive relationship. Bennett’s drama is unique in the fact that it is written with no pronouns. This opens the doors to telling a story that is not defined by gender. Abuse is abuse no matter how you cut it. Rut is a fascinating way of portraying relationships with a simultaneous analysis of gender. Sam and Charlie are our two prime characters. We watch as they have their moments of darkness and light. What makes this play unique is how these two people are portrayed. The four actors tackle a version of these two. Playwright Chandy Bennett and Zak Kelley take on Charlie while Sean Welsh Brown and Nicole Orabona take on Sam. Of the four versions of the couple, each combination provides a different vantage. Who plays the dominant or submissive role, whether it’s a male-male, female-female, or male-female, what the situation is, truly defines different scopes on the thesis Bennett provides in this piece. The ticking of the clock signifies the passage of time. Perhaps these two are a Jekyll and Hyde, but their emotions seem to flip on a dime. Because of the passage, some of the beats feel forced simply due to how the play is set up. Should this be an examination over a longer length of time, it’s a bit more believable, but that would diminish the stakes. No matter what, if the game was to explore gender roles in modern day relationships, Rut was a goliath success.
photo by Arts on the Hudson
Exquisitely directed by Michael Joel, it’s hard not to look at this play as an acting exercise that truly works as a theatrical event. And that’s quite difficult to do. Joel takes great care in staging. The mirrors that he brings into the stage picture while still allowing his quartet to develop their own version of Sam and Charlie fulfills the mission of the piece. He guides the audience through a meditation of this pair without causing harm or villainizing. It’s almost balletic. Should you be unaware of the concept, you would think that it might be difficult to figure out what exactly is happening, but Joel finds a unique perspective to tell this story with costuming context clues from designer Chandy Bennett.
Whether by happenstance that she took on half of Charlie or it just so happened that Charlie was the most dynamic and interesting vantage of the play, Chandy Bennett and Zak Kelley were easily the standouts of the quartet. Bringing their unique flavor to the role, Bennett and Kelley brought a pure optimism out of Charlie. Bennett floated on air as she exposed the light in Charlie. Kelley, who also played the side role of Riley, has a natural comedic side that allured you to Charlie. Though it might have been easy to root against Sam, Sean Welsh Brown and Nicole Orabona did a nice job with the role. Brown had a domineering presence on stage. No matter who he was paired up with, he was a forceful figure. As a pair, Orabona’s chemistry was strongest with Bennett. It helped display a truer form of Sam, something that wasn’t as present when paired with Kelley’s Charlie.
With only an hour to play on stage, Chandy Bennett and the No Dominion Theatre Co team have room to grow and explains the story. We want to spend more time with the couple, even in it’s darkest moments because it is a mirror to society. Tales of abuse are not easy to sit through unless you take great care in telling the story. Rut is an example of how to perfect this feat.