Tuesday, October 02, 2007

PLAY: "True Genius"

David Holstein's play has a lot of promise, but not much genius. Rather than tackling the issues head on, Holstein prefers to have them poke their imaginary heads out from behind the bedposts, or, once they're out, to stuff them into a closet--ahem, armoire--so that he can get back to the funnier stuff. Like Dr. Foyer, the jokey, alternative therapist who psyches out his own patients with erratic behavior of his own. Or Lila, a pathological fabulist who gets by on her cute anti-socialisms and pre-punk forwardness. Our main character, Scooter (Perry Tiberio), seems redacted from the play: there, but all but mute. And without that spark, he's simply a foil for the manias and passions of the playwright, a focal point that we can't relate to, and therefore can't sympathize with when we realize how many of his friends are in his head.

Jill Sierchio does a good job of staging the work, but like Holstein, she's too tentative about her craft. There are very few direct moments, and while this amplifies the effect of good moments (like a shaving-cream kiss), it leaves a lot of dead space, or half-felt emotions, drifting through the theater. Ken Scudder is good as Dr. Foyer, but he's only able to steal the show because his role has more drama than anyone else's: his wife has left him because he cheated on her, he's occasionally drunk, &c., &c. Not to mention he has all the good observations, too ("A liar knows he's lying; a pathological person doesn't), which just goes to show that Holstein is approaching the play too much as an intellectual.

The show is also held back a bit by some of the actors. I won't judge a child actor on the same scale as his peers, especially in a small-scale production, but Tyler S. Gulizo is aimless on stage, and his role as Scooter's imaginary little brother seems forced. Likewise, Nancy Evans, who plays Scooter's mother, doesn't manage the range of emotions necessary to deal with a violent, self-destructive son: pity, resentment, weariness are all washed out by blank grief. She has her moments, and--granted--she's not getting much from Mr. Tiberio, but the actors must find a way to make it work.

Ultimately, True Genius seems at odds with itself: I don't expect a play (especially a self-titled play) to be genius, but it's just not true, and the revelation of the "true genius" is surprising only because it's an irrelevant point tacked on to what should be the focal point of the play: a boy's escape from his secluded self with the help of a liberated liar of a girl.

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