nytheatre.com review by Alec G. Miller
August 16, 2007
I am always wary of multi-character plays that have a main character talking to the audience. It is an easy device that allows the playwright to tell, instead of show, everyone watching what is happening and what the character is going through. It's exactly how the voiceover is used in movies to explain inner thoughts and motivations—a tactic used way too often. And so when Brad C. Light and Richard B. Watson came out on stage talking directly to the audience, my expectations for Shadow People dropped a few notches and I began to expect the worst.
I couldn't have been more wrong. Shadow People, expertly directed by Kevin Vavasseur, who also does a great job playing a few of the characters, is a must-see. The harrowing tale of a man's descent into one of the dark corners of American society during the 1990s is intelligently written by Jay Bernzweig. The entire cast of seven is wonderful as they pull off the difficult task of playing more than 20 characters flawlessly. The stage manager Mike Kindle and technical director Aaron Millis do a terrific job with a simple set that allows each scene to easily morph into the next.
Light and Watson begin the play by introducing themselves as the same person, the main character Jay a.k.a. Jake. The name Jay is used for the working and family world while the name Jake is for the other, shadowy world. This is the world where the play almost entirely takes place. The characters alternate with the retelling of Jake's life story as a male prostitute, crystal meth addict, and small-time drug dealer. Light and Watson each bring their own style and presence to Jay/Jake and work extremely well together as one brain. This original way of having a main character talk to and with the audience is very engaging.
The rest of the ensemble is integral to the success of the play. They fill a range of people who have an influence on Jake as his life spirals out of control. Suzy Cote delivers a memorable performance as Nadia, the wife of Jake's drug-dealing partner. Her accent, mannerisms and overall persona are hilarious. The remaining three actors, Nick Sarando, Scott Silbor, and Ethan Wilde all give standout performances.
Shadow People is a play about redemption, self-discovery, and the painful secrets that must be examined in order to pull oneself out of the black hole they've driven themselves into. Bernzweig's writing is smart, quick, honest, and heartfelt, no matter if it's several funny lines strung together or a powerful dramatic scene. He's able to give each important character an identity even though he or she might not have many lines. His job of course is made easier by having the main character fill in the history for us, but the story is so engrossing that it proved to be exactly what I wanted.