nytheatre.com review by Daniel Vidor
May 17, 2011
Chaos is represented on stage in almost every single play to varying degrees. Perhaps I am suffering from a bad memory, but when I walked out of the Flea Theater from seeing Just Cause, I could not for the life of me recall another play in which scenes of chaos had been executed as smoothly and dynamically as in this production. Zack Russell's Just Cause, which he wrote and directed, deserves to be seen as an example of how a cast and crew can live up to a play's complex literary and staging demands in order to produce a unique piece of theater that is quite often nothing short of being breathtaking.
When the audience enters the basement theater of the Flea, a few members of the cast are in tableau representing a trait of their character. The play then begins with a montage sequence of these young twenty-somethings who live New York either working their miserable day jobs or just sitting at home passing the time. There is Michael, a 26 year old employee of Best Buy; Anna, a bored unemployed college graduate; Helen, a struggling actress/waitress; Tommy, an unemployed musician; and Allison, Tommy's wife, who works as an assistant to a woman named Blackwater for a security systems company. Although this sequence is stylized, each member of the cast brings humanity and depth to their individual scene so that by the end of the montage we have a good idea as to who these people are.
We then learn that a mysterious trio of powerful people, including Blackwater, selected these people to form a cadre of revolutionaries. Their cause is a mystery to the audience and perhaps to the characters as well. What is apparent though is that these young people have found meaning in each other's company. In one of the most impressive scenes of the play the newly formed group meets up at Michael's apartment to drink, party, and presumably discuss their plan of revolutionary action.
What is exhilarating about this scene is the way in which the director and cast are able to believably choreograph the organic nature of a party. Characters speak over one another, conversations break off and then re-emerge, and there is action of various sorts happening on stage. In an amateurish production of this play, this scene could come across as fake and forced. However, under Russell's confidant staging and his cast's full-throttle commitment to it, the action on stage is seamless to the point of uncanny authenticity.
The group is under the guidance of a man named August. He is the one who organizes their meetings and influences the decisions they make. He introduces them to Paul, a man with considerable experience in violent revolutionary combat. The stage seems to be set for these characters to embark on a dangerous mission.
However, just as we the audience begin to grasp what is happening, Russell's script throws out a curve ball, nullifying any predisposed idea we could have had regarding these characters' intentions. The more we learn, the more we realize that things are not what they appear to be. Russell keeps us constantly unbalanced this way, always on edge for the unexpected to occur. There are moments where characters discuss the political ramifications of their actions, but for the most part this play steers clear from political heavy-handedness. Instead Russell uses his story of an emerging radical terrorist group as a way to examine a collective descent into madness. This is where the focus of Just Cause lies.
In addition to the brilliant staging, it is the fully realized and heartfelt performances that anchor this play. Never do we lose sight of the fact that we are watching real people making drastic decisions. Every actor seems to have created an entire history for the character he/she plays, so that even though we learn little about these people from the script, we have a good idea of where they came from and what they want based on the performances. I was particularly moved by the performances of Wilton Yeung, Alex Herrald, Katherine Folk-Sullivan, and Raul Sigmund Julia. All four actors communicate worlds of emotions and thoughts whether they have dialogue or are just simply present on stage. Everyone however is able to have a memorable moment on stage. Furthermore, the entire cast seems to be in total lockstep with the tone and dramatic momentum of the play. These characters may all be going insane but I cared every step of the way.