Broken Nose Theatre at Greenhouse Theater Center. By Michael Perlman (with Aaron Rossini, Craig Wesley Divino, Karl Gregory and Jimmy King). Directed by Spenser Davis. With David Weiss, Adam Soule, John Overton Lewis III, Ben Burke. 1hr 30mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
Michael Perlman’s 2012 drama, created in collaboration with its original New York cast, approaches high-school bullying and its consequences from the interesting perspective of a dozen or so years after the fact.
The play begins with what you might think of as a clever turnabout of Tom Hanks’s Oscar speech nearly two decades earlier. Upon winning for playing a gay man dying of AIDS in Philadelphia, the straight Hanks named his gay high school drama teacher and a gay classmate as inspirations. From White Plains opens with openly gay screenwriter Dennis (David Weiss) accepting an Oscar for his film about his experience of being bullied and his best friend’s subsequent suicide; on live TV, Dennis names and blames a classmate for the friend’s death.
The accused bully, the now 30-year-old Ethan Rice (Adam Soule), is watching at home, dumbfounded to be called out in public by a classmate he doesn’t even remember for events he barely recalls. As his phone starts blowing up, he admits to his best friend John (John Overton Lewis III) that his behavior back then was pretty assholish—and Ethan seems to have grown up into a pretty decent if casually insensitive guy.
Dennis, meanwhile, appears to have regressed to a very bad place indeed by naming his former nemesis. When Ethan posts an apologetic YouTube video the morning after the awards show, Dennis retaliates, much to the dismay of his conciliatory boyfriend Gregory (Ben Burke), who gently tries to suggest Dennis should be enjoying his newfound acclaim rather than using it to wage Internet war on his old enemy and refighting long-dead high school battles. Dennis responds, with competing degrees of righteousness and mania, that Michael’s death must be avenged.
It’s an intriguingly complex social-issue setup, and none of these four men are uncomplicated; John and Gregory are both given their own flaws. Yet that speaks also to the rather schematic mirroring of the plot, particularly evident in a middle scene of plot-convenient accidental subway encounter between Gregory and John. And Perlman’s dialogue reflects the presumably improvisational nature of its genesis in a surfeit of halting, overlapping, incomplete sentences that reflect the rhythms of real-life conversation but sound over-rehearsed when repeated.
Director Spenser Davis’s staging for Broken Nose Theatre efficiently manages the interlocking scenes even on the Greenhouse Theater Center’s tiny Studio stage, and for the most part, he and his cast bring off even the preachiest exchanges.