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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater


  Allie Gallerani, Scott Haze and Ahna O'Reilly/ Ph: Joan Marcus

Short shrift, as you probably know, is when you don’t get a fair hearing or can’t have your full say – just the pointed end of the stick. That’s what all the beleaguered characters in Robert Boswell’s latest hardscrabble play The Long Shrift seem to think they’ve been stuck with. And whether you’re viewing them realistically or aesthetically, it’s hard to argue.
As the play opens in a shabby, poorly constructed pre-fab house, a weary Henry (the likable Brian Lally) and his irascible wife Sarah (Ally Sheedy) are just moving into the dump from what, Sarah emphasizes repeatedly, was a much nicer house. As it turns out, they’ve spent their last dollar on court fees for their son Richard (Scott Haze), who’s been convicted of raping one of his high school’s most popular girls, Beth (Alina O’Reilly). Lally and Sheedy do their best to transcend the exposition here, with Sheedy in particular adding an aura of mysterious intensity to her refusal to visit her son in prison, but it’s not until the next scene, 10 years later, that the drama really gets started.
At this point, Henry is still living in the dumpy digs, but Sarah has passed away, and Richard, for the first time, has come to visit his father, along with a semi-feral dog he’s named “It.” Eventually it emerges that after Henry served five years of his sentence, Beth recanted her accusation of rape, freeing Henry, but leaving him traumatized and adrift in a world where he doesn’t know how to fit in any longer. His visit “home” coincides with his 10-year high school reunion, which he insists he doesn’t want to attend. But a wan but persistent Beth appears at the house and tries to confront the reluctant Richard to explain herself and make some vague sort of amends. He’s understandably resistant to this as well, until Macy (a preternaturally perky Allie Gallerani), a go-getting high school senior organizing the reunion who wants to make a big splash, starts egging Richard on to attend, and he starts to come around to the idea of a public reconciliation between his erstwhile accuser and himself.  
Directed by James Franco, seen earlier this season in Of Mice and Men, this drama is more than a little rough around the edges, and while Franco lets his actors have their moments in the sun, the production never seems to find its focus. More than a little of the fault lies with the play. The exposition is clumsy, the symbolism is anything but subtle, and the dramatic revelations of the play are less than surprising. What’s more, the roles of Sarah and Macy, in particular, feel superfluous to the drama, as though they’ve been added just to pad the play out to its full 100 minutes. That said, the actresses who play these one-note characters do add some flair. Sheedy brings an unexpectedly bitter power to the role of the mother unwillingly making sacrifices for a son she feels doesn’t deserve them, and Gallerani has an amusing turn as the millennial Macy, determined to stage-manage her way into Yale. Though she feels like she’s been dropped onstage from another play, she’s still a breath of fresh air in the claustrophobic faceoff between Beth and Richard.
The play does give its central relationship more depth and more detail, but the result is disappointing. Played by tall, lanky Haze with a self-protective, mumbling defensiveness, the former inmate’s initial reluctance to speak with his repentant accuser does give way and the two do exchange explanations, and what seem to be meant as revelations for the audience, though most are unsurprising. But as the remorseful but insistent Beth extracts her extended tete-a-tete from Richard, he becomes more and more an enigma, and the more facts we learn about that fateful encounter 10 years before, the more its meaning eludes us. Their extended conversations lead, understandably, to no clear resolution for them and, less forgivably, to no sense of closure for the audience, either. We do learn what happened – the solution to this puzzle play – but neither we nor the characters have any very real sense of what it means – then or now. The long shrift turns out to be a dud: The characters do get their say in this wordy drama, but they don’t, in the end, get any real justice.


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