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Men To Be Feared

nytheatre.com review by Robert Attenweiler
August 13, 2012

Men can, it turns out, be very cruel to women. Give those men some power – or access to it – and the results can be quite… cutting. This sad fact is at the heart of the dystopian fantasy, Men To Be Feared, a new play/short film written by Rebecca Jane Stokes.

The bulk of this show’s multi-genre identity exists as a play, so we’ll start there. In an unnamed country still reeling from an unspecified war, Oliver now finds himself in the king’s favor. He also finds himself in and out of the favor of Hannah, a young assistant to Francis, the doctor recently released from prison following the deaths of the pregnant Queen and her child during a complicated delivery. Hannah, we learn from Oliver’s opening monologue, does not follow the rules. Following the rules, however, is what the king, destroyed by the death of his wife and child, demands. Still, Oliver is in love with Hannah who, in turn, is in love with Francis who, while he also loves Hannah, is still the subject of the King’s grief-fueled hatred. It’s your basic love triangle set in a world of dictatorial absurdities and tragedies.

What this world actually is, though, and why this story needs to be set there is a question that eluded me throughout the play. The audience is never given the rules of this world with enough clarity, immediacy or depth to keep us in that most important place in fantasy storytelling: where strange stuff happens, but it all has an internal logic that we, the audience, understand. Sometimes the language was heightened and sometimes naturalistic. Same for the performances and I found myself wondering if this different world was really different enough to need to be different in the first place—and that distraction took away some of the story’s teeth.

Still, Stokes tells a full story that she, along with the play’s director, Sherri Eden Barber, build to a resonant final moment and image involving Hannah’s voice playing over a gramophone. Nate Faust, as Oliver, gives a believable, well-targeted performance and the Sound Design, by Benjamin Furiga, serves the show’s sense of impending doom quite well.

The short film I mentioned plays in the lobby of the theater (and is available online) and serves as a prequel, of sorts, to the play. Comprised of some previously deleted scenes from Stokes’ script, we see an injured Oliver rushing through the woods. He reaches a clearing and collapses in front of Hannah, who tends to him. The film gives snippets of scenes and serves, mainly, to inform Oliver’s fractured psychological state, torn, as it were, between Hannah and the King and contains many elements that could have been projected into the play and served the live performance well.

Men To Be Feared has plenty of potential and some interesting ideas, though, and I’d be interested to see what the creative team might find if they choose to develop this show further.