Magnitude of the Slope
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 3, 2010
Magnitude of the Slope is a new, very timely one-act play by Paul Sapp about a man who is helping the FBI bring down a Ponzi scheme. In it, JP, a 32-year-old stock trader, is preparing to meet his contacts in a New Jersey motel room; but before he meets with them, he has a rendezous planned with Amelia, a woman he's known since high school and had on-and-off romances with ever since. Amelia is probably JP's soulmate, but JP is married right now to another woman, Cheryl, whose father is one of the hedge fund traders that JP is working to bring down.
So it's a complicated plot, and I hope I haven't given too much away here already. Sapp is interested in the human issues that surround the Bernie Madoff-like situation he's set up here, which is what makes Magnitude interesting as well as fairly singular among contemporary plays. JP is the whistle-blower, which should make him heroic; but he's benefited financially from his father-in-law's crimes, and he's helped Amelia benefit as well. Is he still a hero? Is she implicated in the crime now also? These are just some of the questions Sapp raises during the course of his play. He keeps his characters and the audience on their/our toes throughout as he explores the moral ins and outs of a complex circumstance.
I was disappointed that the plotting does not feel entirely plausible: would someone about to hand over evidence to the feds plan a quickie with an old flame for the same afternoon? The characters' behavior doesn't always seem natural; they each do things that make them feel more like Sapp's pawns than the smart, humane people they seem to be. But I applaud Sapp for treading such pertinent ground, and for doing so with a good deal of maturity and concern.
The production is directed by Rebecca V. Nellis, who is a co-founder of Collective Hole Productions, the young indie company that is presenting Magnitude of the Slope. Her work is fine, keeping interest alive even during the transitional moments. The design—including an appropriately detailed motel room (complete with a portrait of Elvis on the wall) and dead-on sound (mostly distinctive ringtones for the various phones in the room)—is uncredited but very effective.
The two actors, Matt Huffman as JP and Blythe Coons as Amelia, deliver solid performances that will undoubtedly feel more lived-in as the run continues (I saw the very first public performance).
All in all, Collective Hole's production of Magnitude of the Slope offers some hard-working artists in a play whose relevance is palpable.