Love, Death, and Vengeance
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
December 7, 2007
Daniel Kelley's new play (his first full-length in NYC), Love, Death, and Vengeance, starts off from the premise that mundane and ordinary events in the lives of high school students are in fact of gargantuan and mythic importance—indeed, that they're the stuff of Greek tragedy. This, of course, is exactly how those events actually feel when they're happening to you when you're 16, which makes Kelley's leap not just clever but thoroughly apropos. He sustains his concept brilliantly in the first act of this tragicomedy, walking the line between John Hughes parody and Sophocles parody with distinction. The show falters in its second half, unfortunately, but the evidence of a talented young writer to keep an eye on is clear.
On a set that resembles the one you'd expect for, say, Oedipus Rex (four Greek columns flanking some marble stairs; the witty design is by Ben Kravitz), but which is actually the front of a contemporary American high school, Kelley begins his tale with the devastating news that Al Gibbins, our Hero, has spilled ketchup on his new white shirt. This is particularly catastrophic in that Al is scheduled to escort his new girlfriend Lily Droshpat to the school dance this very evening, and now with his shirt ruined he doesn't see how he possibly can.
So Al runs off in shame, leaving the Chorus (presumably of fellow high-schoolers) to break the news to Lily. Here's where Kelley reveals his gift for satire: the Chorus, following in the footsteps both of the Greeks and the pop culture melodramas, manage to create trouble where none existed and also to exacerbate it by failing to take any kind of positive action once the crisis they've created starts to combust. Specifically, they lie to Lily, telling her that Al has died(!), which sets in motion a chain of events that begins with Lily's subsequent Juliet-like suicide and eventually destroys the lives and happiness of Al, Lily, and Angelica Enebrius (Al's college girlfriend). Kelley even sends his hero into the Underworld and back again to try to save himself, but it is only with the intervention of the gods that he is finally rescued.
As I said, the play is quite funny and sharp in its first hour, but seems to fizzle out after that; probably this two-act piece would work better at a tight, uninterrupted 70 minutes. The staging and the performances are somewhat scattershot, with Ben Correale as Al probably turning in the strongest work here, and Henry Zebrowski fitfully funny, especially as a drunken frat guy in the college scene.
But the writing is strong, portending good things from playwright Kelley in the future. For example, here's Al Gibbins explaining himself to Angelica, whom he has just met:
I live my life under a terrible curse. My curse is that I cannot love a woman longer than three weeks. I took up the curse when my true love died....She was...ah...She was like all women. She was ALL women! In every one of womankind I see something that reminds me of her, and drives me toward them for one, two, three weeks. And then the likeness is gone...and I...I must move on. I will never find her like again. O, how I suffer!
Realize that in the world of this play, Al has in fact been placed under a curse by his now-dead lover; and so what sounds like smooth frat boy sweet-/double-talk is actually the literal truth. It's a neat trick that Kelley has accomplished here; I look forward to what he does next.