All That I Will Ever Be
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 6, 2007
Alan Ball's new play All That I Will Ever Be is hard to generalize about. The press release says its about "cultural provocation and our eternal search for belonging," which I guess is reasonably true; but the most effective and affecting scene in the play has very little to do with either of those subjects and everything to do with understanding yourself so well that you have no illusions about your place in the world. In it, a 30-ish man named Omar, an immigrant from the Middle East, is having some post-sex conversation with a 60-ish man named Raymond (Omar is what the British tactfully call a "rentboy"):
RAYMOND: One should never be ashamed of who they are.
OMAR: That's easy for you to say.
RAYMOND: No it is not. It is not easy for me to say. Believe me.
More talk ensues, and for the only time in All That I Will Ever Be, every word is genuine and honest; writing this raw and intimate is where authentic connection between audience and author can really flourish. David Margulies, the actor who embodies Raymond with extraordinary acuity in this production, certainly has something to do with how resonant these ten minutes or so are. But they're Ball's words that he's speaking.
Unfortunately, the playwright—who is best-known as the screenwriter of American Beauty and the creator of the TV series Six Feet Under—never gets to this place of truth anywhere else in this script. Most of All That I Well Ever Be is given over to lies, bandied between Omar and his sort-of boyfriend, a rich disaffected Angeleno named Dwight. Their relationship starts out to be the same as Omar and Raymond's, i.e., a business transaction; but it evolves into something that appears to be deeper to each man—that is, until they confront the illusions that it's based on. Similar flimsy relationships, also based in transaction, fill out the play: Dwight and his father, adversarial yet symbiotic; Dwight and his shallow friends Beth and Bart; Omar and Cynthia, a striving movie studio executive who is, temporarily, his sugar mama. The scenes depicting all of these interactions are variously comic, dramatic, interesting, and sardonic, but ultimately they add up to narrow commentary on mores and values; they miss the weight of the Omar-Raymond exchange and as a result it's that scene that lingers.
So this is, finally, sort of a gossamer play, mostly slipping through our fingers as it unfolds. The final scene, an epilogue for Omar, feels entirely out of place, coming out of nowhere because so little has been provided to ground it.
Jo Bonney's staging feels sluggish in places, but it's generally engaging. Austin Lysy (Dwight) and Peter Macdissi (Omar) offer fine performances, though neither nails his man as thoroughly as Margulies is able to; the writing is partly responsible for that, I think. In multiple roles, Kandiss Edmundson, Victor Slezak, and especially Patch Darragh do commendable work.