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NY Theater Reviews

Joanna Gleason/PH: James Leynse

WHEN WORDS ARE NOT ENOUGH

By Bill Stevenson

Willy Holtzman's Something You Did is full of intelligent dialogue. What it needs is more action to go along with all that talk.

Willy Holtzman's new play has five articulate characters, which makes for some intelligent dialogue about politics, fathers and daughters, and other subjects. What the play needs is more action along with all the talk.

Something You Did focuses on Alison (Joanna Gleason), who has served 30 years in prison for her part in a Grand Central Station bombing that killed a police officer. The cluster bomb was meant to protest the bombs our military dropped in Cambodia and wasn't intended to hurt anyone. But the unlucky policeman did died, and Alison decides to meet with his daughter Lenora (Adriane Lenox) to see if she'll write a supportive letter for Alison's upcoming parole-board meeting. Alison's wily attorney Arthur (Jordan Charney), longtime law partner of Alison's recently deceased father, finds someone less likely to help her: Gene (Victor Slezak), a former radical who is now a neoconservative pundit and best-selling author.

Most of the play consists of one-on-one debates, or confrontations, between the characters. When Holtzman isn't going over the characters' personal and political histories, he has them take sides about whether violence is ever a justifiable form of protest. While the discussions are thought provoking, the play is too often polemic and too seldom dramatic. It doesn't help that director Carolyn Cantor seems to have asked the actors to rush through their long-winded speeches about their political beliefs.

When the actors do slow down, as Gleason does when Alison gives her heartfelt testimony before the parole board, they are at their best. Lenox makes a strong impression in her scene, as she informs Alison of the repercussions of her father's death. And Portia provides much-needed comic relief as the uniquely named Uneeq, a sassy prison guard. Charney and Slezak have good moments, though they're also the main offenders as far as rushing through their dialogue. Not surprisingly, Slezak and Gleason aren't able to make their big scene together work since it is as contrived as it is unbelievable.

At a time when people wonder how to protest another unpopular war, Something You Did is certainly timely. It also offers five juicy roles for actors and smart, politically charged dialogue. It's unfortunate, however, that most of the action in this talkathon took place three decades ago.