DEATH OF FRANK
nytheatre.com review by Ken Urban
This new production of Stephen Belber’s 1997 play by the Sum of Us
Theater Company hits all the right notes. Well acted and inventively
directed, this show needs to be on your "must see" list for this year’s
August 15, 2002
Belber is best known for his play Tape which was made into a film last year by Slacker director Richard Linklater, as well as his role as Associate Writer on The Laramie Project. This early play finds Belber exploring Christopher Durang territory—desire that crosses the boundaries of what is "right"—with plenty of deft comic touches. But while Durang tackles taboos by piling on the laughs, Belber is not afraid to address the more serious side of his subject. That Belber is able to do this without ever succumbing to a forced sense of gravitas is impressive.
Roommates and best friends, Peter (Raymond James Hill) and Natalie (Alexa Dubreuil) are, to put it nicely, extremely close siblings. To put it plainly, Peter wants to sleep with his sister. This desire is held in check only by the incest taboo and Peter’s love of gardening, which serves as his substitute for social interaction. Things grow complicated when Natalie’s new boyfriend Frank (Paul Keany) enters the picture. Frank is a rougher, older man, who runs a mysterious construction business and has a penchant for talking with his fists. Spurned Peter finds his own romantic muse in cunning linguist Lynn (Tessa Gibbons), a spoken word artist with a love of words and unloaded firearms. Brother and sister are equally jealous of each other’s objects of desire and after a fateful day involving a garden hoe, things are never the same for the pair.
While the terrain of Death of Frank feels familiar, Belber’s script surprises. He finds a great deal of depth in the plight of these four characters, particularly Peter’s ambiguous sexual exploits. Director Nancy S. Chu uses a number of simple yet effective staging techniques, the most prominent being an onstage stage manager who hands out props and supplies sound effects. Such subtle touches give important moments added vitality. The cast all do excellent work. Their years working together at the Atlantic Theatre’s Acting School shows. Hill and Keany, in particular, turn in highly effective performances as Peter and Frank.