By Sam Affoumado
From White Plains, a thought-provoking Fault Line Theatre production, directed and written by Michael Perlman (in collaboration with the cast), opened at the Pershing Square Signature Theater on February 14, 2013.
The play’s central theme, the bullying of gay teens, is a familiar subject, but From White Plains adeptly explores the long-term emotional, psychological, and physical consequences in an unexpected way. The precipitating incident referenced in the play happened fifteen years earlier. So why rehash the trappings of a series of confrontations that happened so long ago? The finely crafted drama compels us to look at what happens to the victims and perpetrators long after the bullying has stopped.
The story opens while Ethan (Aaron Rossini) and John (Craig Wesley Divino) are watching the annual Oscar telecast. To their astonishment, Ethan is outed by Dennis (Karl Gregory) as the bully who was the key inspiration behind his indie film, "From White Plains," now being awarded best picture of the year honors at the Academy Awards. Dennis explains in his acceptance speech that the film is a tribute to his best friend Michael, who committed suicide, in part, as a result of the relentless bullying he received throughout his high school years. And so Ethan is named, on an international Oscar telecast, as the homophobic tormentor depicted in "From White Plains. Smartphones begin to ring incessantly, emails pour in and the play takes off in a chain of internet rants.
Ethan offers a video apology and Dennis fires back with his own scathing video. Dennis is just getting started as he begins his vicious assaults on Ethan to the chagrin of his boyfriend Gregory (Jimmy King) who can’t comprehend why Dennis is still pursuing this fierce course of action instead of celebrating. The internet video exchanges between Ethan and Dennis become increasingly belligerent as Dennis accelerates his campaign for justice or does he want revenge by creating havoc in the bully’s present life?
A uniformly fine cast sensitively realizes all of the characters but the standout is Karl Gregory. His performance is riveting and while his character’s emotional life is often overwhelming and could easily become melodramatic, Mr. Gregory knows just when to let go and when to pull in the reins.
The staging and direction by Mr. Perlman is fluid while Tristan Jeffers’s mid-century retro minimalist set allows the play to move quickly among the characters’ apartments and other scene locations.
More questions are raised than are answered in Perlman’s tense 90-minute drama. Lives fall apart and things are never quite the same for any of them. From White Plains offers nothing in black or white; the play does perhaps provide a bit of insight into the ills of our society and maybe as we leave the theatre, we will continue to debate the issues and grapple with the notions of responsibility, prejudice, empathy and forgiveness. Catch a performance before it closes.
From White Plains runs through March 9th at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, Manhattan; (212) 279-4200, ticketcentral.com
Photos Jacob J. Goldberg
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