The Long Shrift: In brief
Renaissance man James Franco continues his plot to dabble in every single conceivable aspect of the arts by directing the premiere of Robert Boswell's drama. Scott Haze (of Franco's film Child of God) stars as a young ex-convict who encounters the accuser who put him in jail; Ally Sheedy plays his mom.
The Long Shrift: Theater review by David Cote
Nearly any play with more than a handful of characters is bound to include what folks backstage tactfully call a “thankless role.” The term is vague but denotes a part that is functional foremost, not particularly fleshed out nor compelling on its own. How curious that novelist Robert Boswell’s The Long Shrift, which polymath celebrity James Franco directed, is peopled entirely with thankless roles.
Kindly Vietnam vet Henry (Brian Lally) does little more than stoically support his traumatized son, Richard (Scott Haze), who was convicted of raping a fellow high-school student and spent five years in a Texas state penitentiary. Richard ought to be the drama’s fiery center, but the sulky ex-con never comes into focus, always sliding to the margins. So does his brittle, judgmental mother (Ally Sheedy), who thinks her son is guilty. Meanwhile, Beth (Ahna O’Reilly), the unhappy woman who accused Richard and later recanted, and Macy (Allie Gallerani), a student both nubile and ductile, hang around as easy targets for Richard’s rage and lust. Boswell’s medium-boiled morality tale seeps out over 100 minutes, and none of these sketchy figures truly capture our sympathy.
Still, it’s a sign of the ensemble’s integrity and Franco’s sensitivity to tone that the action achieves fleeting moments of intensity and complexity. The final scene, in which Beth and Richard grope toward reconciliation, is almost satisfying.
But too often, Boswell, who probably evokes psychological depth and mood better in prose, loses the thread of his drama, letting scenes sag under exposition or undercharged banter. Haze has some raw, jittery appeal (he will soon appear in Franco’s film Child of God), but Richard is a stubbornly shallow loser, a creep who was wronged—unless he wasn’t? The women are written even more thinly, with a nasty aftertaste. It’s hard to focus on anyone’s fate when they’re all given such short shrift.—Theater review by David Cote
THE BOTTOM LINE Who’s the guilty party in this gritty crime-and-punishment yarn? The author.
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