nytheatre.com review by James Comtois
May 16, 2007
Silverland, a play by first-time playwright Benjamin Davis, is about people partying like there's no tomorrow, perhaps because there is no tomorrow. Or maybe it's a play all about the morning, or life, after the party.
It's a little difficult to tell. The press materials describe Silverland as taking place "in Britain one year before the 2012 Olympic Games...and one year before the Kyoto Protocol is set to expire," something I would not have figured out had the press junket not told me. To the best of my knowledge, neither the year nor the words "Kyoto Protocol" are ever specifically mentioned in the play.
Here's what I did figure out: six characters are at a rave in England in the near future where drinkable water is scarce, celebrating the New Year. The play then follows their lives after the party. Or, maybe the party is still going on and everyone's just having seriously twisted drug trips and imagining their futures. Or maybe there's something else going on entirely.
Without giving too much away, the stories are as follows: two young ravers, Dario and Mikey, spend the aftermath of the rave wandering around bloodied and lost in either the countryside or somewhere a little more insidious. Dario wants to get back to the rave because that's where he met the girl of his dreams: a beautiful dancer named Cleo. Meanwhile, Gabriel, a trader, falls in love with and moves in with Ellen, an artist, who is plagued with nightmares about drowning. Gabriel's boss, Stockers, wants to rope Gabriel into a less-than-ethical moneymaking scheme (involving capitalizing on drinkable water) as well as win the affections of an exotic dancer, who happens to be Cleo, the woman of Dario's dreams.
What's frustrating with Silverland is that it's too funny and interesting to dismiss but also too muddled and plodding to fully recommend. Reading what I had written above sounds very fascinating and thought-provoking. And it is. However, while watching the play, I found myself experiencing a case of "narrative whiplash" throughout, following the story and being engaged, then being lost and confused, then back to being on track, then back to being lost again, sometimes within minutes of each other.
Consider the character of Stockers, the drug dealer at the rave and a stockbroker during the day. Now, the idea that there's no discernable difference between a power stockbroker and a drug peddler is a good one: both prey on human weakness, both are money-hungry. However, the production's execution of this felt unnecessarily confusing: I had to double-back and check the program and script to make sure Tim Steed wasn't playing two separate roles (he's not).
Although Di Trevis's direction does create a well-realized world on stage, it lends itself to unnecessary confusion (example and full disclosure: I had to skim through Davis's script to get some of the above-mentioned plot points clear).
The acting is uniformly excellent. Tom McClane is both believable and likable as Gabriel, Sophie Hunter plays Ellen with just the right blend of neurosis and sympathy, Cary Crankson and Bradley Taylor offer some genuine laughs as the lost ravers, Steed hits the right notes with Stockers as a well-dressed and well-mannered predator, and Ony Uhiara is downright mesmerizing as Cleo.
Jane Gibson's movement/choreography deftly makes the six actors seem like they are a large throbbing mob at a rave.
Ultimately, "fascinating mess" would be an apt sound-byte phrase to describe the show. Silverland plays better in the mind afterwards than while on the stage. However, that may not be a bad thing.