Saturday, May 16, 2015

Review: When the Past Catches Up

The phrase "karma is a bitch" has never been truer than in Paul Grellong's dark and twisty drama Manuscript. In Just Kidding Theatre Company’s revival of Grellong’s script, a trio of rich kids spend a winter evening trying to one up one another in a game of power.
In Manuscript, David and his childhood best friend Chris catch up after a semester at their respective Ivys. On this night, Chris brings along his new girl, Elizabeth, a published writer to meet David. As drinks are had, insults are flung and moments alone reveal histories that are larger than life. Grellong’s script is beautifully dark and magnificently troubling. Watching these three privileged kids manipulate each other in a game of revenge is a great story for the stage, but it greatly relies on intricate direction. Manuscript is one of those rare productions that was a bit of a wreck at the start but the clever and soupy twists by Grellong brought you back into the play. But I don't know if this production was able to redeem itself by then due to the dragging pace at the start. It's a catch 22 when so much information at the beginning is necessary to truly land the end. But by director Paige Fridell playing the action so slowly, it detracted from allowing natural acting from the trio. Additionally, the production was a bit stylistically messy. Without revealing any wonderful spoilers, by playing the characters with an edge of falseness too early, it appears as poor acting rather than deliberate acting. As the play progresses, you learn that David, Chris, and Elizabeth are all performing in one form or another. Cameron Clarke, Matthew Hansen, and Kimberly Nordstrom respectively had to tread that fine line as the audience needs to go on this revelation journey as well. By going over the top too soon, it’s possible to disregard the performances of the characters and question the motives. The trio had some nice moments on stage but overall struggled within the truths and lies presented.
photo courtesy of Just Kidding Theatre Company
From a production standpoint, Manuscript was a bit troubled. The set by Joseph Napolitano was poorly executed. Napolitano’s set relied on precision and clean lines with rope and fabric to create the architecture of the brownstone. One of the “walls” was crinkled to make a brick look but by being the only panel with this effect when others should have received it as well, it appeared as a mistake. The mix of realistic and theatrical scenic pieces did not blend cohesively, specifically the book benches. Chris’s world was dominated by literature and books. Napolitano needed to go all out with the presence of the books rather than throwing them in the corner in odd bench formations or inside a fireplace. The tree created by string is visually pleasing and an awesome idea. The thin fabric panel sadly does not mask the lighting cables which detracts from the magic of the image. While it was nice to have a piece of fabric to represent a rug, it was not secured and frequently caused problems for the actors. The lighting by Cindy Shumsey was a bit odd. Adding color into the realistic setting was a strange choice, especially when the color changed in the middle of scenes. Visually it was nice to see color on stage, but with a realistic script, it did not mesh. Additionally, there were an incredible amount of shadows all over the stage.
Just Kidding Theatre Company’s production of Manuscript was a big undertaking. The overall vision was muddied causing a domino effect of faults. Thankfully, Grellong’s script is exciting and deserving of attention.