×

Sophistry

Lack of specificity in South Ark Stage's revival also does little to ground the play.

With:
Whitey McCoy - Jonathan Hogan Willy - Maximillian Osinski Robin Smith - Natalie Knepp Debbie - Mahira Kakkar Igor Konigsberg - Ian Alda Xavier (Ex) Reynolds - Charlie Hewson Jack Kahn - Michael Carbonaro Quintana Matheson - Ellen Dolan

Jonathan Marc Sherman’s campus play “Sophistry” may have caused a stir in 1993, when it premiered at Playwrights Horizons. But it’s hard to see its relevance for contempo auds, who are less easily shocked by the topic of sexual harassment — or as ready to buy into the premise that college kids are too morally apathetic to give a hoot when a student accuses a tenured prof of raping him. Lack of specificity in South Ark Stage’s revival also does little to ground the play in its period or give the colorless students something to make them less stereotypical and more human. 

In all fairness, even a brilliant young cast (like the original ensemble, which included Ethan Hawke, Calista Flockhart and Anthony Rapp) couldn’t disguise the big tease-no payoff nature of Sherman’s script, which comes on strong in depicting the purported rape of a gay student by his philosophy professor — and then drops the whole thing. 

Veteran thesp Jonathan Hogan builds a sturdy and quite sensitive perf as Whitey McCoy, the milquetoast philosophy prof reduced to playing Santa Claus at the local mall when he’s forced to leave his tenured position at a small liberal arts college in New England.

Michael Carbonaro proves a worthy foil as the traumatized student, Jack Kahn, who tells an entirely different story of their middle-of-the-night encounter when he testifies before the college president. 

One of them is a liar, and for a while, Sherman has us wondering — just as John Patrick Shanley and David Mamet did, when they posed the same maddening conundrum in, respectively, “Doubt” and “Oleanna.” But while Shanley and Mamet attacked the issue by examining it from every conceivable angle, Sherman merely observes that it’s a sophistic question — in the sense that the cleverness of the argument matters more than the literal truth of the matter — and leaves it dangling.

Scribe’s point, of course, is that either of the clashing versions told by the student and the prof could be valid, but neither the conflict-averse college administrators nor the morally disengaged students of the 1990s could be bothered to pursue the truth. Of all the hyperactive kids crammed into the crowded dorm designed by Charles Corcoran, only Robin Smith, a reporter for the school newspaper played with insufferable smugness by Natalie Knepp, even remembers to bring up the issue from time to time.

But while scribe is entitled to illustrate how easily distracted these airhead kids are by their nonacademic pursuits of music, alcohol, weed and sex, he really does have a duty to give his audience some meatier matter for our trouble. And while the youthful thesps who play these children are entitled to frolic around in their undistinguished roles, none of them really seems to be having much fun.

Popular on Variety

Sophistry

Beckett Theater; 99 seats; $47.50 top

Production: A South Ark Stage presentation of a play in two acts by Jonathan Marc Sherman. Directed by James Warwick.

Creative: Set, Charles Corcoran; costumes, Melissa Schlachtmeyer; lighting, D.M. Wood; sound, Graham Johnson; production stage manager, Christine Fisichella. Opened May 5, 2009.  Reviewed April 30.  Running time: 1 HOUR, 50 MIN.

Cast: Whitey McCoy - Jonathan Hogan Willy - Maximillian Osinski Robin Smith - Natalie Knepp Debbie - Mahira Kakkar Igor Konigsberg - Ian Alda Xavier (Ex) Reynolds - Charlie Hewson Jack Kahn - Michael Carbonaro Quintana Matheson - Ellen Dolan

More Legit

  • Tessa Thompson'Westworld' Season 3 TV show

    Tessa Thompson, Michael Urie and Celia Keenan-Bolger to Appear in Play-PerView Fundraiser (EXCLUSIVE)

    Tessa Thompson will appear in a live reading of Ryan Spahn’s comedy ​”Nora Highland” in order to raise money for arts organizations impacted by the coronavirus. “Nora Highland” is being featured on Play-PerView, a new live-streaming initiative that was co-founded by producer ​Jeremy Wein​ (NYC PodFest)​ and actor and producer ​Mirirai Sithole (“Black Mirror: Smithereens”). [...]

  • Mark Rylance Oscars 2016

    'Bridge of Spies' Actor Mark Rylance Leads Union Drive for Coronavirus Relief Donations

    U.K. entertainment industry union Equity has pledged £1 million ($1.2 million) to support its members who have been affected by the pandemic-induced industry shutdown. Equity is asking for more donations, stating that the vast majority of its 47,000 members earn modest sums and do not have savings as a fall-back option. The appeal for further [...]

  • Directors Coronavirus

    Economic Package For Freelancers Elicits Mixed Response From U.K. Industry

    The long-awaited economic measures for the self-employed revealed by U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak on Thursday have elicited mixed response from the film and TV industry’s predominantly freelance workforce. Self-employed individuals can claim 80% of their average income over the last three years up to £2,500 ($3,000) a month, which is taxable. To [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    Critic’s Notebook: The Night Before Broadway Went Dark

    Let me preface this by saying the story I’m about to tell is not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. Two weeks ago, I rushed to New York City to catch “The Inheritance” before it closed on Broadway. I’d been tracking the play by Matthew Lopez — a multigenerational, six-and-a-half-hour monument that resurrects E.M. Forster [...]

  • Mark Blum dead

    Mark Blum, 'Desperately Seeking Susan' Star, Dies From Coronavirus Complications

    Actor Mark Blum, who appeared in “Desperately Seeking Susan,” “Crocodile Dundee” and the TV series “You,” has died due to complications from coronavirus. He was 69. The Playwrights Horizons theater group and SAG-AFTRA executive vice president Rebecca Damon confirmed the news on Thursday. It is with such deep sorrow that I’m writing to share the news [...]

  • U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi

    U.K. Chancellor Announces Emergency Measures for Freelancers

    The U.K. has finally announced an economic relief package for freelancers not in employment after much of the country’s creative industries shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced a new self-employed income support scheme on Thursday. Self-employed individuals can claim 80% of their average income over the last three [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content