nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 18, 2008
No Entrance is a play in five vignettes by Alec Gutherz about a young man who goes off to fight in the war in Iraq. It takes its title, I believe, from the penultimate segment, which is a beautifully written scene in which the young man, James, is in a waiting room in some mysterious and unknown location. With him are two other soldiers. On a loudspeaker, names are being called, with increasing frequency. Where are these men? Why are these names being called out? Will these three men be called?
I don't want to talk too much more about this part of No Entrance because to do so will give its secrets away. The title is a clever play on the English title of Sartre's Huis Clos. The writing here is smart and moving and insightful. And director Sue Lawless has staged this scene with terrific economy, keeping the focus on Christopher Cole (as James, our protagonist), and his two compadres, Jacob Troy as a troubled nameless soldier with some serious issues to resolve, and Matt Stapleton as William, the guileless younger soldier who is the last to arrive and the first to leave.
William, in fact, has already been introduced to us, in the play's other excellent scene. This one takes place in a waiting area at a Midwestern American airport. William is leaving his family farm to serve in Iraq. Natalie, James's wife, encounters him there—she tells him she comes here to think and she's not waiting for anyone, though subsequent developments might lead us to believe she's lying. In any event, this is another richly human scene that finds the universal in some very specific circumstances and reminds us about what's actually of value in life.
Now, you've probably realized by now that I've chosen to talk about No Entrance as if it were a collection of playlets rather than as a single play, and I'm doing so very deliberately. There is a narrative coursing through this piece, but the feel of it is very disjointed; the two scenes that precede the ones I've talked about, along with the one that follows them, seem tacked-on. The first focuses on the aftermath of a quarrel that James and Natalie have had, apparently about his upcoming second tour of duty in Iraq. The second is a dream/fantasy sequence involving James and his ultra-religious, ultra-controlling mother. The final scene is a confrontation between Natalie and her mother-in-law. None of these three has the potency of the two inner scenes about the soldiers; and none of the three women actors in the play (Alison Edwards as the mother, Emily Loeb as Natalie, and Rena Burger as Zoe, Natalie's sister) achieves the humanity of the three men who portray the soldiers.
Gutherz has real talent; he's just starting his career as a playwright and I will be interested to see what he does next. Writers Bloc Productions, the company Gutherz has co-founded, has done a commendable job mounting this piece, and is also worth keeping an eye on.