British playwright Simon Gray has distilled the essence of ultimate emotional disengagement within the morbidly detached persona of literary publisher Simon Hench (Devin Quinn). Gray chronicles the adventures of this bankrupt being who cripples the souls of family and friends by his complete indifference to their humanity, but director Michael Rothhaar's measured pacing and Quinn's overly deliberate line delivery serve to undermine the playwright's dramatic throughline.

British playwright Simon Gray has distilled the essence of ultimate emotional disengagement within the morbidly detached persona of literary publisher Simon Hench (Devin Quinn). Gray masterfully chronicles the adventures of this bankrupt being who cripples the souls of family and friends by his complete indifference to their humanity, but director Michael Rothhaar and an inconsistent ensemble never establish just cause as to why one need spend two hours in Hench’s company. Rothaar’s ponderously measured pacing and Quinn’s overly deliberate line delivery serve to undermine the playwright’s dramatic throughline, reducing the action into a series of longwinded and dull cutting sessions.

Set in the summer of 1975 within the living room of Hench’s home in Islington, the production follows Hench’s attempts to listen to a recording of Wagner’s “Parsifal,” while quietly but savagely laying waste the psyches of a series of interlopers into his solitude. His victims include his monumentally insecure older brother Stephen (Stuart W. Howard), the socially underdeveloped young boarder Dave (Frank Castrina), arrogant but vulnerable journalist friend Jeff Golding (Stephen Hoye), opportunistic young writer Davina Saunders (Andi Carnick), tragic former childhood classmate Bernard Wood (Lawrence Arancio) and his own wife, Beth (Stacie Chaikin).

Quinn certainly projects the meaning behind Hench’s coolly inhuman dissection of all he surveys but appears to be committed to communicating at a specific, monotonistic vocal rhythm, as if he were being guided by an internal metronome. His unwavering delivery does underscore Simon’s aloofness but also destroys any sense of communication and character interplay, without which there is no play.

The generally able supporting cast cannot make the scenes come alive on their own. An exception is Castrina’s effectively disheveled, urchinlike turn as the boarder. His Dave is so monumentally clueless and oblivious to Simon’s intellectual posturing he unwittingly triumphs over his would-be tormentor.

Though Nathan T. Sykes’ lighting design suffered a bit of unscheduled opening night flickering, the production designs of Victoria Profitt (set), Sean Sullivan (costume) and Alexander Enberg (sound) create a believable environment within PRT’s limited stage area.

Otherwise Engaged

Pacific Resident Theatre Ensemble: 99 seats; $22 top

Production

A Pacific Resident Theatre Ensemble presentation of a play in two acts by Simon Gray. Directed by Michael Rothhaar.

Cast

Simon Hench - Kevin Quinn Dave - Frank Castrina Stephen Hench - Stuart W. Howard Jeff Golding - Stephen Hoye Davina Saunders - Andi Carnick Wood - Lawrence Arancio Beth - Stacie Chaiken
Set, Victoria Profitt; lighting, Nathan T. Sykes; sound, Alexander Enberg; costume, Sean Sullivan. Producers, Andi Carnick, Karren Kelley; associate producers, Ginna Carter, Linihan Charles, Lewis Dauber, Solo Scott. Opened and reviewed, Nov. 18, 1999; runs until Jan. 16, 2000. Running time: 2 HOURS.

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