The Wastes of Time
nytheatre.com review by Matt Schicker
July 23, 2006
A lot of interesting emotional terrain is covered in Duncan Pflaster's play The Wastes of Time. The core idea has much potential to be a moving theatrical experience, and the current production gets off to a very promising start. Unfortunately, the climax of the dramatic journey doesn't convince; but the piece has much going for it, and some good work on the part of the director and some of the performances help make The Wastes of Time a very worthwhile experience.
The lives of the characters in The Wastes of Time all have been touched by AIDS. Middle-aged Mary Ann lost her closest friend, Peter, with whom she had a very special connection, to AIDS. Her son, Jesse, a young gay man, is concerned about the disease as he tries to get a date. David is old enough to remember the height of the epidemic, and he is cautious as he embarks on a relationship with the much younger Jesse.
Spirits are high when Jesse brings David home to meet Mary Ann, who is genuinely pleased that Jesse has found someone. There are some pretty predictable twists, and by the end of the night, no one is happy. This leads to some soul searching and a cathartic ending where everyone has come to terms with their demons.
If the story itself feels a bit unoriginal, the characters and the actors playing them mostly are very compelling. Jess Cassidy White gives a winning performance as Jesse, a refreshingly straightforward, emotionally honest young guy who wants happiness for himself and also for everyone else. As Jesse's mother Mary Ann, Susan Barnes Walker gives a quirky, nuanced, funny performance as a middle-aged woman reflecting on the golden times of her youth as she watches her son experience love. As David, Andrew Rothkin doesn't engage us in the same way as his stage partners; his affected speech patterns and odd enunciation make him sometimes difficult to understand, and his performance just doesn't fit in with the other more straight-ahead characterizations.
An interesting transition device is used throughout by director David Gautschy, who has come up with nicely simple staging throughout: an anonymous "club kid," played by Shawn McLaughlin, carries out all the necessary scene changes while dancing to '80s music by iconic recording artists such as Madonna. The character unexpectedly becomes a very meaningful part of the story by the play's end, a very nice touch by the playwright and well done by the director and performer.
The problem is that the play becomes less successful at dealing in depth with the emotional content as it progresses. The pivotal "dinner scene" unravels by the end, and the performances follow suit by becoming unfocused as well. The big moment of revelation doesn't ring true and there are some abrupt emotional shifts that aren't convincing in the writing or performances.
The ending, however, is touching and sensitively presented by director and actors, and I left feeling that The Wastes of Time is a strong enough piece that, with some reworking and further honing, certainly should be seen by larger audiences and have a life beyond this summer's Midtown Festival.