New York City Theater
"The Long Shrift"
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
It’s repetitive and structurally convoluted. But you can’t say “The Long Shrift” doesn’t hold attention for its 100 minutes, especially in light of current revelations about campus rapes. Robert Boswell’s new drama puts that crime and its consequences through hoops.
The felony not only sends high schooler Richard, the alleged perpetrator, to jail but has a deleterious effect on his parents. Forced to move from their home, which they’ve sold to pay their lawyer, to a ramshackle apartment near their son, the parents’ marriage falls apart despite the efforts of the boy’s empathetic father. Worse, the mother’s health is affected, leading to an unwieldy and diversionary fantasy scene.
The main event, the rape and its aftermath, finds no easy answers. Richard spent five years in prison on Beth’s word that he assaulted her, an accusation promoted by her jealous boyfriend. She eventually recants, springing Richard but, to salve her conscience, confronts him, wanting a “conflict resolution.” His answer is to humiliate her, again and again.
Although Beth’s outstretched hand is slapped down repeatedly, who can assess blame? After all, Richard not only lost those years he was imprisoned, but his personality changed. The once sensitive, optimistic kid has grown nasty and embittered, because “things that used to make you happy break your heart.” Can a wrong ever really be righted?
It’s a play about forgiveness, about loss, about broken, irreparable lives, symbolized by a precious vase that’s coddled and then smashed. Under James Franco’s vigorous direction, the evening seethes with bitterness; the only relief is provided by ditsy Macy whose plans for a successful high school reunion are ruined.
As Richard, Scott Haze is all rage and seductiveness. Although we see few signs of his pre-jail temperament (he doesn’t even like his yappy dog), what he has become stabs the play’s heart. It’s a part that Franco himself would relish, the sensitive but tough boy-man and Haze plays it full throttle.
As Beth, Ahna O’Reilly doesn’t have much to do but look petulant and, occasionally, explode with frustration. As the ditsy Macy, Allie Gallerani gets most of the evening’s laughs, while Ally Sheedy does what she can with the underwritten part of the mother. As Richard’s father, Brian Lally finds the core of the man’s decency, anchoring the evening.
Andromache Chalfant’s set is deliciously tacky, with the bottom of the front door so close to the carpet that it has to be dragged open or shut. Like the play itself, the door is tough and unyielding.
-- David A. Rosenberg
July 16, 2014