nytheatre.com review by Anthony Nelson
August 12, 2006
Higher Power, a new play by Sam Ryan, is a nice first step into the New York scene for the young NYU-based ensemble of Little Red Square. The play is a savvy tale of three people struggling against the pasts that link them inextricably together. Unfortunately, under director Chris Plante, the ensemble doesn't quite seem to have the experience to make the entire play work, but I still enjoyed the production.
The play tells the story of two brothers, Adam (Chris Littler) and Seth Andrews(Colin Hunt), who have taken different paths through life and yet arrived in the same place. They share an apartment, paid for by Adam's drug dealing, while Seth struggles through a job at Blockbuster and applies to law schools. Their uneasy peace is shattered one morning when Seth arrives with an old friend he's run into, Holly Finn (Larke Schuldberg). Holly is an old flame of Adam's whom he hasn't seen in nearly two years. Holly has a proposition: she's gotten clean, but still has thousands of dollars worth of various narcotics. She wants Adam to sell them for her, after which she'll disappear from his life forever. Adam, unsure of her motivation, is intent on extracting the best deal possible from Holly. As the evening progresses, however, it becomes clear Holly has plans beyond simply collecting the money she is owed.
As played by Littler, Adam is both charismatic and vicious, displaying an impressive charisma even while constantly on the offensive. Unfortunately, playwright Ryan has given him a truly boundless reservoir of cruelty and nasty secrets to reveal, so it robs the proceedings of their power when he reveals the tenth secret in the course of 30 minutes. Similarly, Adam's tendencies to resort to violence would have been a lot more shocking had Plante not blocked him to be constantly making physical threats to the other actors. Ryan and Plante would certainly serve the piece better by holding back the play's moments of cruelty and violence to where they could make the maximum impact, rather than distributing them constantly to the point where we felt numb for the characters.
Schuldberg and Hunt seem less confident in portraying darker emotions. Their performances are tentative, but they are dealing with characters with murkier motivations. Littler's performance is the best part of what we see; he even performs several songs he wrote that do a very nice job covering transitions and setting the mood.
The play tracks the choices we make when entangled in a toxic relationship, and asks us to what lengths we might go to truly escape from one. Although the play is called Higher Power, and purports to examine also the role of faith in all of this, the only real attention this idea is given is when the characters occasionally remember Seth is a devout Christian (such as when he starts to pray after freaking out because he's done too many drugs). Mostly, the play seems to agree with Adam, as Holly tells him, "I've accepted there's a higher power that can guide our action," and he replies, "Yeah, and you've delivered several thousand dollars worth of it today." Drugs, the allure of them and the easy money they can create, dominate these characters' lives. Their relationship to God only displays itself in how He could help them get clean or come down.
This script is a very nice first step, but the company itself needs more experience before it can make these ideas truly land.