You've Never Done Anything Unforgivable
nytheatre.com review by Debbie Hoodiman
August 15, 2004
In You’ve Never Done Anything Unforgivable, Matthew Humphreys performs three short stories written by George Saunders, adapted by Humphreys and Brendan Hughes for the stage.
The three stories, from Saunders’ collection CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, are “Isabelle,” “Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz,” and “The 400-Pound CEO.” With recurring themes of guilt, revenge, violence, and vulnerability, the stories take place in a satirical version of America where, for example, in “Offloading…,” customers can visit a booth in the mall and pay $70 for an hour-long virtual reality experience of their choice, and in “The 400-Pound CEO,” guilty people hire a raccoon disposal service which has a dirty secret. The first story, “Isabelle,” is about a man who witnesses a violent act and the violent revenge that ensues.
The set, designed by Sandra Goldmark, consists of a platform which is rotated and flipped to create three distinct playing spaces. Particularly interesting is the third setting, where the wall is a tile floor from which a chair, trash pail, and trash hang suspended. I don’t want to give anything away, but the set allows for a beautiful final picture at the end of the show.
As a performer, Humphreys creates distinct characters and keeps the audience intrigued as the stories unfold—not an easy task given their length and detail. In the third story, he successfully creates the illusion of a different body type through specific, simple choices. Under Hughes’ direction, he acts out scenes when appropriate, while other times, as in “Isabelle,” Humphreys just sits still and describes. Jessica Ford’s costumes are also particularly effective, helping create the distinct characters and settings.
The most compelling element of the piece, however—and given the caliber of the stories, it would be impossible for it not to be—is the material itself. Saunders’ stories are richly detailed, funny, suspenseful, relevant, bizarre, and interesting. What a delight to sit in a theater and watch them unfold as executed in this piece!