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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
THE LONG SHRIFT
at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater

TEN YEARS LATER
By DIANE SNYDER

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

Although it lasts only 95 minutes, The Long Shrift is one long haul – at least until the final scene of Robert Boswell’s overwritten and undercooked play, a dark drama about a young man who faces the woman who sent him to prison when she accused him of rape in high school, then set him free years later with a retraction.
 
Until then the play plods along, unable to reconcile its challenging theme about the sometimes slippery definition of rape with a crazy plot that borders on theater of the absurd. The omnipresent James Franco (currently appearing on Broadway in Of Mice and Men) isn’t much help as director of this Rattlestick Playwrights Theater production. His cast is more accustomed to film than stage work, and it often shows in their performances.
 
Likewise, Boswell, an accomplished novelist and short story writer, struggles with dramatic structure. His first scene, in which Houston parents Henry and Sarah (Brian Lally and Ally Sheedy) downgrade to a lesser home because of their son’s legal fees, is a clunky assemblage of backstory, symbolism and theme. It takes some time to realize that by the second scene, we’ve jumped ahead a few years, Sarah is dead, and son Richard (Scott Haze) is now free and back in town for his 10-year high school reunion.
 
Not surprisingly, Richard has a chip on his shoulder the size of Mount Rushmore, and is determined to live down to people’s expectations, as he proves when his former accuser, Beth (Ahna O’Reilly), shows up full of guilt and confusion, and desperate to see him. He spends scenes venting and berating her as the dramatic action grinds to a halt.
 
The introduction of a fifth character – Macy (Allie Gallerani), an ambitious current student at the school who’s organizing the reunion (really?) – shifts the play uncomfortably into broad comedy. Richard and Beth essentially exchanged places when she said she lied about the rape – he went from villain to sympathetic figure, and vice versa – and Macy wants to exploit that by getting them to share the stage at the reunion.
 
Like Jean and Julie from Strindberg’s Miss Julie, Richard and Beth come from different backgrounds (he’s working class, her family is wealthy), and sex is about power as much as desire. But when Boswell lets us see their humanity, there are signs that Richard and Beth might at last be able to escape their origins and what happened when they were teenagers.
 
As they finally discuss that long-ago night and the pressures that made them act as they did, The Long Shrift becomes thoughtful and provocative. If only it didn’t take 80 minutes of off-the-wall filler to get there.

 


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