Monday, August 15, 2016

Review: Law and Order and Romance

By Michael Block

Imagine Miss Bliss from "Good Morning Miss Bliss" and any of the "Law and Order" detectives coming together for a romance then a chat on morals. How do they work together? The answer is they really don't. In John Doble’s To Protect the Poets, a meet-cute between a GED literature teacher and a lonely detective leads to a romance where morality is put to the test. With a murder investigation as the backdrop, Doble examines rape culture and police brutality through varying lenses. Doble's text is interesting. It's part police procedural and part 90s sitcom that never really intertwines. It causes tonal confusion on the part of Doble and director Alberto Bonilla.
Whether it was stylistically different actors or the text itself, Doble put Bonilla in a tough spot. The focus of the play was on Jab the cop and Mac the poet played by John Isgro and Elizabeth Alice Murray respectively. Isgro and Murray are two very different actors. With their chemistry lacking, To Protect the Poets never was really ever able to take off. Isgro brings a naturalistic approach while Murray has a heightened aura. Together, it was a mash-up that didn't pan out. With varying styles, it highlighted Doble's dialogue in an unfortunate way. Some of the actors had difficulty navigating his choppy text. The conviction wasn't always quite there. Just look at the "bully" exchange. Despite the graphic nature of the scene, Doble's strongest writing was through the interrogation at the end of Act I. Angel Dillemuth had a spark of vivacity as the suspect. But ending the act with this scene was problematic. The audience didn't want to applaud. It was not something to cheer for. To Protect the Poets easily could be a single act play. Just cut the following scene where Mac's GED students perform Romeo and Juliet. It didn't further the plot at all. We don't need to be hammered over the head that these two are star-crossed lovers. It’s already quite evident. Sure, it's nice to see Jab and Mac at work, but the story is the pair, not the job.
Though minimal, deciphering where in time Doble's text was played was a bit of a question. With talk of the electric chair and then a boom box as the source of music, was this play a modern commentary or one from the past? Cementing this is essential for the perspective and overall objective. None of the costumes helped to define this either so it’s really up to interpretation.
To Protect the Poets has a message we have heard far too often. But the execution of said message was a bit a miss. In a sea of politically-driven pieces, To Protect the Poets sadly sinks.