Viewer Discretion Advised
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 13, 2010
Viewer Discretion Advised is a new suspense drama by Ed Stevens that revolves around Norm, a seemingly ordinary young man, and Bud, a stranger whom Norm picks up at the side of the road and (inexplicably) brings to his house. Norm has a date later this evening with his new-ish girlfriend, Anne. Bud distracts, cajoles, bullies, and otherwise manipulates Norm into postponing the date, until Anne finally turns up at the house herself. The men then begin to compete for Anne, with surprising and dangerous results.
This is a true cat-and-mouse story. I've thought carefully about what a cat does to a mouse when it catches one, and the analogy proves pretty apt here: what Bud does to Norm—despite the latter's occasional attempts to save himself—feels very much like the kind of play-as-torture that a feline will instinctually wreak on a rodent it has captured. The difference here is that Bud does not appear to be operating out of instinct (though what he ultimately gets out of what he does here remains unclear: is he a psychopath?) And I don't want to suggest that anyone does or does not get out of this perilous situation alive: I leave it to you to discover who wins and who loses should you decide to check Viewer Discretion Advised out.
For me, the uneven dynamic between the two main characters of the story weakened the piece. As the play unfolded, I kept bumping up against unanswered questions. What it Bud trying to accomplish here? Why was he waiting at the side of the road? Why did Norm pick him up? Why did Norm bring him home? Why doesn't Norm try to call the police at any point?
Notwithstanding all of this, Stevens raises some interesting issues in the script, notably what homosexual panic seems capable of arousing in "normal" (though clearly troubled and insecure) males. There's also a lot of attention here on body image and its impact on both men and women—one of the more convincing gambits in the story is Bud's concern with how he looks, because, he says, he used to be fat. And Stevens's depiction of the play's sole woman, Anne—in terms of her relationship with Norm and her reaction to the charismatic Bud—feels incisive and honest.
Director Cynthia Dillon keeps the intermissionless action fairly relentless. The structure of the play has us anticipating some "thriller" moments from the get-go, but they don't come until quite a while into the piece, and Dillon and her cast manage to keep us interested while we wait for them. Bob D'Haene, as Bud, has by far the showiest role, and he plays it for all it is worth. Katelin Wilcox is sympathetic as Anne and I wished that she'd gotten more stage time. Carson Alexander does not make Norm's actions feel reasonable, though I think that's the fault of Stevens's script; a certain suspension of disbelief seems to be necessary to really buy into the plot, which is seriously lacking in context in terms of Norm's motivation.
One thing I really liked about this production, which is mounted by The Wreckless Stage Company at the Kraine Theatre, is the inclusion in the program of a playlist, all consisting of tracks by local bands (Bob D'Haene's band—which is called D'Haene—is prominent among them). So if you like what you're hearing while waiting for Viewer Discretion Advised to begin, you'll know how to find it later on.
Ultimately, this play did not really prove to be to my taste. Stevens's script seems more about menace and surprise than internal logic; if a good old-fashioned escapist scare is your thing, Viewer Discretion Advised may be just what you're looking for.