nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
July 15, 2007
John Green's new drama, Mentor, is a solemn two-act, 90-minute march towards the inevitable. By which I mean that the play's outcome is apparent within the first five minutes. Not what Green had in mind, I'm sure, but the result nonetheless.
Set in 1982 Kansas City, Mentor looks at the love-hate relationship between Phillip, a former English professor, and Michael, his star pupil from back in the day. Michael and his girlfriend, Rachel, are on their way to Colorado from New York (for reasons that are revealed later on) and stop at Phillip's house for a visit. The two men have not seen each other in several years, and it turns out they have some unfinished business. Michael still craves the approval of his old teacher in every aspect of life, while Phillip seems alternately thrilled and annoyed by his former student's presence. What's going on here? Guess.
Mentor is the kind of play where the characters speak in either bitchy bon mots or soulfully intended platitudes. Comments like "Hearts break because others do not know how to let you love them," and "I don't believe in accidents—accidents are just another way of saying I'm a victim" abound. These people don't talk to each other as much as they talk at each other. And, they all have a bone to pick with each other. Consequently, most of them come off as rather unpleasant. Especially the two protagonists, whose relationship is so antagonistic it makes one wonder why they remain in contact. The only character who comes off well is Phillip's younger boyfriend, Donald, who is genuinely likable and funny. Michael Cenname's endearing performance in this role is also a big help.
James Martinelli directs Mentor without any sense of urgency or focus. The drama's events just sort of play out on stage in real-ish time and ignore tempo. I'm guessing part of this is due to the fact that Martinelli also plays Phillip, a character who is on stage for almost the entire play. Wearing both hats seems to take away from him giving a hundred percent in either capacity. This is too bad since his performance hints at the emotional depths he could possibly reach.
His direction, however, needs some work. The crucial misstep is the casting of Vincent Caruso as Michael, only because Caruso looks older than Martinelli—a major gaffe since he's supposed to play younger. Other curiosities include a slipshod attention to detail: the numerous cans of Tab are straight up 1982, but Phillip's CD player is more like 2002 (not to mention that CDs weren't yet commonplace in the early 80s—and what's with those random Donna Summer LPs and that one stray book lying randomly on the floor?).
Mentor is a good idea for a play, but as it stands right now that's all it is.