Off Broadway Review: ‘The Long Shrift’ Directed by James Franco

Alice Gallerani, Scott Haze, Brian Lally, Ahna O'Reilly, Ally Sheedy.

In “The Long Shrift,” Robert Boswell has written James Franco the flashy leading role of a hardened ex-con named Richard Singer who, as an awkward 18-year-old high school kid, was sent up the river for brutally raping the most popular girl in senior class.  Ten years later Richard is out of prison and seething with rage, but beneath that fury he’s still the same sensitive, innocent kid.  Unfortunately, Franco isn’t the star but the director of this play, and he’s entrusted the lead to a thesp who hasn’t a clue what to do — except imitate James Franco.

That tough-and-tender emo cocktail has always worked really well for Franco, on stage (“Of Mice and Men”) as well as in films. But he’s failed to pass on his skills to Scott Haze, a hot movie item (named one of Variety’s “10 Actors to Watch” in 2013) and frequent collaborator of Franco’s (“Child of God”), but a novice to legit whose emotional range as the volatile Richard is limited to “peeved.”

To be fair, the scribe doesn’t give him or any of the other underwhelming thesps much to work from. Boswell is one of those perennially promising talents who has worked his way around the foundation circuit, collecting beaucoup awards and fellowships to sustain his multi-faceted career writing novels, short stories, nonfiction and science fiction.  But “Long Shrift” should set his playwriting ambitions back a peg or two.

In tone and topic, the play is Sam Shepard Lite, the cri de coeur of an alienated son of the American West embittered by injuries inflicted at the whims of an unkind and unjust world.  In a reversal of formula, father Henry (Brian Lally, another longtime Franco stalwart, but at a loss here) is no domestic tyrant but a spineless worm, and mother Sarah (Ally Sheedy, fighting a losing battle) turns out to be the monster. But the Texas locale reduces to a drab house in a featureless setting with no identity, and there’s nothing mythic — or even realistic — about the generic characters.

The plot is one of those maddening I’ve-Got-a-Secret dramatic constructs. Early on, a character will show up demanding a platform to tell his story, only to be hushed up and hustled off by the other characters until the final scene, when All Is Revealed in the most melodramatic fashion.  Here, that Cassandra figure is Beth (Ahna O’Reilly), the high school sweetheart who branded Richard a rapist and had him put away for aggravated assault — and who now wants to explain why she has engineered his early release.

O’Reilly quietly conveys a sense of the guilt that Beth has been carrying around all these years, and you’d think that Richard would be just a tiny bit interested in what she might have to say for herself. But no, in defiance of all reason, he keeps pushing her away until the scribe finally allows him to face off with Beth in their big confrontation.

To fill in the big blank spaces between Beth’s early arrival on the scene and the Hail-Mary pass of her confessional scene, Boswell has come up with some pointless arguments between Richard and Henry, Henry and Sarah, and, of course, all those preliminary skirmishes between Richard and Beth. When he does venture out of his comfort zone of two-character scenes, it’s to present the spectacle of Richard and Beth making a joint onstage appearance at their tenth high school class reunion.

As if that weren’t preposterous enough, Richard has a “Carrie” moment in the school auditorium when he strips off his shirt in the middle of an angry rant to reveal a huge prison tat on his chest. But even that bit of drama comes off as phony.  In the real world, when an 18-year-old prisoner is gang-raped by members of the Aryan Brotherhood, they do, indeed, brand him with a swastika tattoo — but it doesn’t go on his chest.


Popular on Variety

Off Broadway Review: 'The Long Shrift' Directed by James Franco

Rattlestick Playwrights Theater; 99 seats; $30 top. Opened July 13, 2014. Reviewed July 10. Running time: ONE HOUR, 40 MIN.

Production: A Rattlestick Playwrights Theater presentation of a play in one act by Robert Boswell.

Creative: Directed by James Franco. Sets, Andromache Chalfant; costumes, Jessica Pabst; lighting, Burke Brown; sound, Bart Fasbender; production stage manager, Andrew Slater.

Cast: Alice Gallerani, Scott Haze, Brian Lally, Ahna O'Reilly, Ally Sheedy.

More Legit

  • The Sound Inside review

    Broadway Review: 'The Sound Inside' Starring Mary-Louise Parker

    Mary-Louise Parker will take your breath away with her deeply felt and sensitively drawn portrait of a tenured Yale professor who treasures great literature, but has made no room in her life for someone to share that love with. The other thesp in this two-hander is Will Hochman, endearing in the supportive role of a [...]

  • Little Shop of Horrors review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Little Shop of Horrors'

    With its strains of kitschy doo-wop and its sci-fi B-movie inspirations, the quaint 1982 musical “Little Shop of Horrors” hardly seems a thing of modern-day revivalism, even despite its touches of S&M. Yet this year alone, not only is there an Off Broadway production of the blackly comic “Little Shop” featuring Jonathan Groff of Netflix’s [...]

  • The Lightning Thief review musical

    Broadway Review: 'The Lightning Thief,' The Musical

    “It’s a lot to take in right now,” says Percy Jackson, the teen hero of “The Lightning Thief,” the kid-centric fantasy musical (based on the popular Y.A. novel) that’s now on Broadway after touring the country and playing an Off Broadway run. You could say that’s a bit of an understatement from contemporary teen Percy [...]

  • The Rose Tattoo review

    Broadway Review: 'The Rose Tattoo' Starring Marisa Tomei

    “The Rose Tattoo” is what happens when a poet writes a comedy — something strange, but kind of lovely. The same might be said of director Trip Cullman’s production: Strange, if not exactly lovely. Even Marisa Tomei, so physically delicate and expressively refined, seems an odd choice to play the lusty and passionate protagonist, Serafina [...]

  • Obit-Roy-B

    Former NATO President Roy B. White Dies at 93

    Roy B. White, former president and chairman of the National Association of Theater Owners, died of natural causes Oct. 11 in Naples, Fla. He was 93. White ran the 100-screen independent theater circuit, Mid–States Theaters Inc. In addition to his career, he did extensive work on behalf of charities and non-profits. He was vice president [...]

  • Soft Power review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Soft Power'

    The “culture-clash musical” is a familiar template, in which a white American protagonist — waving the flag of individuality, optimism and freedom — trumps and tramps over the complexities of that which is foreign, challenging or “other.” David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori’s “Soft Power,” the new “play with a musical” at Off Broadway’s Public [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content