nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
November 10, 2006
I love TheDrillingCompany, and I respect what they do and stand for enormously. But sometimes timing is everything. I saw the nine short plays comprising their newest evening of socially conscious theatre, Security 2, on the Friday following Election Day 2006. My heart was (still is) full of hope and renewal and vigor thanks to the turnaround signaled by the American people that day. And so theatre that might have seemed vital and necessary only a few weeks before failed to ignite very many sparks as its overall despairing pessimism felt, if only for the moment, antithetical to the national mood.
Timing hurts Security 2 in another way, as well. At a little over three hours in length, this evening is just too long: it's acknowledged in the program that we're in for what amounts to an embarrassment of riches, but that doesn't excuse the absence of some much-needed editing, both within some of the pieces themselves—which often tackle more than the one central theme that a short one-act play can adequately handle—and to the entire collection overall.
Now all of that said, there is much to reward the audience member at Security 2. There are, to begin with, nine plays that to varying degrees have worthy concepts riffing on some meaning of the word "security." The political pieces include Sheri Graubert's Grapeheads, directed by Hamilton Clancy, in which a soldier returning from the War in Iraq finds himself tormented by the memory of a brutal murder committed by an American civilian contractor; A Breach in Security by Brian Christopher Williams, directed by Thomas Sherman, which uses a beached whale as a heavy-handed metaphor for the undocumented aliens that we're supposed to be suspicious of in post-9/11 America; and Don Carter's SAFE, which imagines a new American revolution where the have-nots have risen up against the haves and takes place in an underground high-tech bunker where a wealthy stockbroker's family intend to wait out the rebellion. Carter's play, directed by Rachel Wood, has a compelling notion at its center, and the playwright has fun imagining what such a futuristic residence might be like. But a running joke where the family's teenage son's name is constantly mauled by the "realtor" is unfunny and unnecessary, and the story changes course about halfway through, morphing from satire to romance.
Two of the plays are inspired by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Hay Outta Hell is written by Yvette Sirker, who was there; it tells the stories of four disparate New Orleans residents before and after. It's overly ambitious, but at its best it's poignant and sharply satiric: there's particularly good writing for the role of a soulless bureaucrat who reads out increasingly absurd rules and qualifications for government aid. Hamilton Clancy directs. Trish Harnetiaux's A Gopher in the Ninth Ward, staged by Eric Nightengale, brings a Southern American Housewife to the post-Katrina scene, where she wants to find just the right place to photograph her office mascot, a stuffed gopher, as an entry in an office pool. Harnetiaux's heart is in the right place trying to show us the remove with which too many Americans view televised catastrophe, but it's the woman's wordless husband—a man who can't help screaming after he comes down with "a case of humanity"—that's interesting in this unfocused piece, not the overexposed stereotype of the callous wife.
Security 2's other four plays deal with the eponymous subject on a more personal level. With Benefits is about job security vis-a-vis personal sanity, charting a woman's growing discontent with a job she abhors. Written by Colleen Cosgrove and directed by Dave Marantz, it's a little bit sit-commy: we never really get the information we need to understand why this woman hates the office so much. Crusade is also about job security (kind of) as it charts an interview between a high-powered male attorney and a younger female lawyer who wants to work at his firm. Its lynchpin is the idea of sexual harassment, and it takes a predictable turn without ever explaining or justifying itself. Justin Boyd is the author and Richard Harden directs.
Renee' Flemings's Continuum, directed by Elizabeth Dunn Ruiz, is the hardest piece on the bill to connect to the theme, though it's also in many ways the most adventurous play here. It begins by (very successfully) satirizing the empowering African American women's theatre pioneered by Ntozake Shange, and then takes its three nameless characters on a quest to find something just as potent to replace it. It's as earnest and risk-taking as the best of Flemings's work.
And then there's The Knock, by Drew Sachs, directed by Bradford Olson. For me, this was the most successful item of the evening, pitting a would-be artist who has given up his art in the name of personal safety against a surprising intruder who I took to be Opportunity (hence the title). By reminding us that the responsibility for making any kind of change in any kind of life—yours or anyone else's—is ultimately always our own, The Knock makes the hardest-hitting comment about the state of security in the USA circa 2006, namely, we can't afford not to reach outward and upward if we're going to get anywhere, risk be damned.
Interesting and varied as the program is, the evening's most important assets are its actors, 29 in all, performing with commitment and vigor. Some standouts include Michael Gnat, who shines as the silent husband in A Gopher in the Ninth Ward and is pricelessly hilarious as an overly cheerful office worker in With Benefits; Scott Baker as an upbeat but exasperated fairy godfather-type in The Knock; Dan Teachout as the damaged soldier in Grapeheads; and Dennis Gagomiros, who plays to type as the buttoned-up patriarch in SAFE and then executes some unexpectedly nifty dance and martial arts moves to boot.