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Photograph: Scott DrayJoel Ewing and John Henry Roberts in Sugarward at the side project

Sugarward at the side project | Theater review

Sean Graney’s quasi-historical lark about a British colonial governor feels sluggish and rushed at the same time.

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In 1706, Col. Daniel Parke (John Henry Roberts) arrived at the British Leeward Islands and, as governor, made drastic changes that led to his downfall. It’s an interesting true story, but Sean Graney’s new play tries to cram four years of political drama into two extended scenes, resulting in a history lesson that feels at once sluggish and rushed. As characters present semi-factual details about Parke and his associates, there’s no emotional drive pushing the play forward.

Graney has a tendency to diminish his scripts’ tension by tossing in humorous asides; in Sugarward, Parke’s servant follows a description of horrific slave-breaking camps with a protracted fake-retching bit. While director Geoff Button (like Graney, a longtime Hypocrites company member) tries to mimic the playwright’s comedic sensibility, there’s only so much humor to be found in watching a character try to cross his legs over and over again.

Casting a single actor in multiple roles is one of Graney’s most common tricks, but there’s no solid grounding for Joel Ewing to alternate among his three parts; rather than enriching the storytelling, the splitting just makes the characters look flimsy. Ewing does fine work differentiating Parke’s servant, his major rival and his political predecessor, yet the tripling comes across as a ham-handed way of adding variety to a bland script.

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