Friday, October 9, 2015

Review: Tales of a Straying Heart

Sometimes we want what we shouldn't have. Those things that are attainable but cause an avalanche of consequences if acquired. But why do we want them? Maybe because we're unhappy in a current situation. But when you're heart and mind are set upon achieving the thing you shouldn't have, not even your best friend or spouse can stand in your way. Such is the case in John Jiler's Half Moon Bay, presented in rep by Nylon Fusion Theatre Company at The New Ohio Theater
In Jiler's drama about human connection and desire to fulfill the unfulfilled, Richie develops a fascination for a young woman that may not be all quite there. As his obsession grows deeper, Richie pushes away his pregnant wife for a stranger he strives to save. Told through a narration lens by cynical and confident best friend Tom, Half Moon Bay features an unsavory situation that drives the play into madness. The plot is unsettling mostly because the reality of possibility. What Jiler writes about is not uncommon. Sadly, it happens more often than not. So from a story standpoint, Jiler has crafted something that is bound to allow the audience to feel something. But when you dissect the text, there’s something off about Half Moon Bay. And it may be due to the character of Alicia, the troubled young woman Richie strives for. As we learn the truths about Alicia, it’s hard to understand why Richie does what he does. What is it about this stranger that ignites his passion? The way we view Richie is that he is impulsive and irrational with an obsessive fascination with an unstable woman. And the more we learn, the less we sympathize for his situation. You long for Pam, Richie’s wife, after she’s abandoned. You end up liking Tom, the overly confident best friend, even if some of his comments are brazen. But with the focus on the relationship between Richie and Alicia, there feels as if there is some repetition in the ninety-minute play. The way Jiler has crafted his play is sharp, allowing the action to move. But he seems to give away the mysteries early on. Which may have been the point. When Richie is finally rejected, he comes groveling back to Pam. And we see what happens as a result. We see his punishment. There’s something about ambiguity that may have been desired in this final moment.
The star of the show was Brennan Taylor as Tom. Taylor had the unique task of being a supporting character that drives the narrative. Taylor is suave and cynical yet completely endearing. The way he was able to rock the shiny silver suit proved his worth has a character. As Richie, Ben Gougeon looked out of place. It was a bit hard to imagine him as the sarcastic lawyer’s best friend with the girl of his dreams. But when you have it all, you have to prove why you’re willing to give it all away. Gougeon didn’t quite do that. Gougeon seemed to follow the formula as prescribed by the playwright without straying or making any bold choices. Like the character, he was just missing something. As Pam, Jean Goto was overly affected in many of her acting choices. It wasn’t until she stood strong that Goto’s confidence resonated. Ivette Dumeng as Alicia had an incredibly difficult character to portray. Dumeng had to control the character’s unraveling without revealing the her instability too soon. Partly due to the text, it was hard to see the connection between Alicia and Tom. Additionally, while it may have been a character choice, Dumeng was soft spoken causing some audibility issues even in the second row.
Director Margarett Perry took Jiler’s fluid script and made it translate onto the stage. Timing was everything with Perry’s vision. Perry did not utilize any props or scenic elements to allow for the scenes to quickly ride into one another. The transitional vocabulary was a bit mixed, either having characters linger on stage or rush right off stage, but there was consistency in cohesiveness between the lights and sounds by Wilburn Bonnell and Andy Evan Cohen respectively. Bonnell used sharp shifts that may not have caught Brennan Taylor in his light every time, but the intent was present. The simplicity of the percussion from Cohen was a wonderful touch to the world of the play. The set by Kyu Shin was primarily featured by the monochromatic blue floor that looked like a topographical map.
Half Moon Bay is quite an interesting text. There’s something enticing about having an emotional connection, whether good, bad, or indifferent. But there is a spark missing that can set this play apart.