nytheatre.com review by Robert Attenweiler
August 14, 2010
At the intermission of Protected, a new play written and directed by Timothy Scott Harris, I found myself genuinely excited. Here was a play whose main character, Langley, is feeling his way through his first months in the witness protection program. Left to sift through unresolved issues from his former life and deal with a hearty paranoia concerning his new one, Langley has to fend off the kindness of his quirky new neighbors and co-workers, while protecting himself from the very real dangers that await him if his identity is ever discovered. Unfortunately, at the end of the play, I found myself much less excited, as this play never really makes good on a truly fun premise.
Protected opens on a secretive Langley, played by Jeff Paul, fussing with the front door of his trailer park home. His arms are full of bells and locks; though, being an accountant, he is more of a thinker than a home improver and his securities are soon defeated by his nosy neighbor, Mirna (a believably flighty Cam Kornman). Mirna has been keeping an eye on her new bachelor neighbor and offers him a meat loaf made by her single daughter, Debra (Dee Dee Friedman). Langley also gets a visit from his co-worker, Matt (Matt Walker). Matt has stopped by to give Langley the identification documents Langley (being understandably suspicious) has convinced his bosses they should keep track of for all new employees. Matt wants to start a friendship, but is met—as is everyone else—with awkward distance. Finally, Langley meets Debra who, it turns out, is not the housewife-in-waiting her mother advertised but, instead, an obsessive-compulsive germaphobe. All the while, Langley is being told by his handler, Cruthers (Bill Tatum), that he must let go of what his life was before and embrace the challenge of beginning anew. It looks like we're in for one part identity farce and one part thriller—only the comedy is way too safe and the thrills never come.
The cast of Protected does a fine overall job with the script. In fact, Harris writes smooth, listenable dialogue. But the problem with the play is just that: it's all dialogue. Rather than things happening in this story, too often talking about things that have happened substitutes for action and, in the end, we're left watching what seems like a talk therapy session for these characters, which is a big disappointment after an interesting set-up. The danger we think may be lurking based on Langley's "security" measures never appears and Debra's fears, while based in post-9/11 reality, manifest themselves more for comedic effect.
There are genuinely pleasing moments in Protected. Paul and Friedman land some tightly-wound comedy and Walker is a real pleasure to watch. Harris directs his show simply, allowing his script and actors to tell his story clearly, which they do well here.