Theater review by Adam Feldman. Pershing Square Signature Center (Off Broadway). By Michael Perlman. Dir. Perlman. With ensemble cast. 1hr 40mins. No intermission.
Revenge is not very sweet in From White Plains, a poignant and balanced look at the psychic bruises of teenage cruelty. The play begins with an acceptance speech about the unacceptable. Dennis (Karl Gregory) has won an Oscar for his screenplay about his geeky, gay high-school friend Mitchell, who has since killed himself; he uses his television platform as an anti-bully pulpit, making a point of calling out Mitchell’s primary abuser by name. The bully in question, Ethan (Aaron Rossini), watches the speech from home, dumbfounded; now 30, he barely remembers his thoughtless hallway jabs at Dennis and Mitchell, but he knows that his life is about to be upended. And Dennis keeps hitting him: In a furious Internet video, he attacks the “people—for lack of a better word” who denied Mitchell’s personhood. The irony of reducing Ethan to subhuman status is not lost on Dennis’s benign, accommodating boyfriend, Gregory (Jimmy King), who tries to intervene. Like Ned Weeks in The Normal Heart, however, Dennis doesn’t allow much room for anyone else on his soapbox.
“Who’s the bully? Right?” asks a defensive, panicky Ethan of his best friend, John (Craig Wesley Divino). But Michael Perlman’s probing drama—written in collaboration with his able cast—does not settle for so easy a reversal. Although Ethan may have grown up in some ways, he’s still a bit of a jerk; and while Dennis may be dislikably insensitive and self-righteous, the play addresses the question of bullying with sincerity and insight. From White Plains is too neat in some places and sloppy in others (one accidental encounter, useful to the plot, feels contrived), but it makes powerful points about the persistence of damage. Ethan, at least, has had the luxury of moving on; in exacting the vengeance he has longed for, Dennis remains cramped in high-school mode, stuck in the office of his principles.—Adam Feldman
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