nytheatre.com review by David DelGrosso
September 26, 2007
David Holstein's seriocomicTrue Genius is the story of a Scooter, a young man who is a pathological liar, occasionally delusional and in rare instances is prone to destructive episodes. Also, his name is not actually Scooter. He was lying when he introduced himself.
Scooter lives with his mother in a room decorated with his father's trophies, plaques that declare that his father was an extraordinary genius at a young age. But this is all Scooter has to know his father by, as he died when Scooter was only three. Scooter himself is a genius, but where his father's gifts appear to have led to awards and recognition, Scooter's mind seems to be working very hard against him. Much of the play revolves around the question of what is or is not real. As he is haunted by some very convincing delusions, Scooter often has to worry whether or not the people talking to him are really there, particularly when people start saying just what he wants to hear. Scooter's latest therapist and especially his mother are doing their best to make him put aside these fantasies, but even she may be not telling the whole truth when it comes to their family history.
This conflict between real and fantasy life comes to a head when Scooter meets Lila, a spirited young woman who is not only a fellow pathological liar, but also, like Scooter, looks at the world differently than everyone else. To Lila, even a bathroom mirror has some magic to it. Scooter is smitten, but is Lila quite literally too good to be true?
I really enjoyed this play, even to the point that I found the trim 70-minute running time shorter than I wanted. Playwright Holstein has a written a piece with great forward momentum and it is compelling to have to work out with Scooter what can and can't be believed. As the play is seen entirely from Scooter's point of view, the game of watching True Genius becomes trying to discern, along with him, what the truth is. Director Jill Sierchio does a great job of drawing us in and keeping us off-balance at the same time. Her awareness of how the audience will be trying to read into the small details and physical clues shows in her staging. The frenetic pace of even the scene shifts reinforces the feeling that Scooter is in crisis.
In Scooter, Holstein has created a great role for a young actor—that kind of part that can allow a college-aged actor to shine. It puts me in mind of Eugene from Brighton Beach Memoirs or Wallace from Women and Wallace. Actor Perry Tiberio gives a committed, full-bodied performance. Sierchio's production is high-energy across the whole cast, but Tiberio in particular throws himself at the role, with the effect that Scooter's genius, as well as his fears, are physicalized onstage. He looks, to be honest, a little old for the 19-year-old character, though I suppose audience members accustomed to the late-20s-for-teens casting trend on television will perhaps not find this distracting.
Also excellent is Regina Myers as Lila. She has great comedic timing and her strong, forceful presence in all of her scenes. Her aggressive and positive energy helps push the question of whether she is real or just Scooter imagining such an ideal, quirky match.
I would have liked, once some of the secrets were revealed, a little more time spent exploring how certain delusions were kept up. How long had they been in Scooter's life? In what practical ways did he keep these characters alive? And I would have liked little more chance for the new status quo at the end of the play to establish, as the resolution seemed to be racing to beat the final blackout. Still, it is a compliment to a new play to want it to be longer and to not want the characters to leave so soon.