nytheatre.com review by Sarah Congress
August 14, 2009
Deathwatch, written by Jean Genet and translated by David Rudkin, tells a dark and disturbing tale of prison politics in early 20th century France. In the Dialectix Group's presentation of Deathwatch, all of the roles are portrayed by females—an interesting twist to a play centering around the ideas of murdering for the sake of experience, and the struggle to attain top hierarchal status in prison.
The play explores the line between idolization and annihilation. LeFranc and Maurice, portrayed by Katherine McDonald and Stephanie Smith, do an exceptional job conveying their utter adoration and jealousy of the dangerous, prison-wise Green Eyes. Carissa Cordes presents the death-sentenced Green Eyes with naked emotion and ruggedness. Tensions are high from start to finish as the audience witnesses the decline of Green Eyes, and the power struggle which ensues between his two followers, as they battle first with words then with fists to attain alpha male position of the tiny prison cell.
While director Aaron Sparks has made the rather bold choice to cast a female production of Deathwatch, it would perhaps have been even more interesting to see him take this one step further. Instead of having the actresses play the parts as men, it would add a layer to the play by having the women actually portray female convicts. This decision would also alleviate some confusion. The role of Maurice is described as effeminate; but though the other actors disguise their high voices with a husky tone, and smear blotches of dirt on their fine, feminine features, they were all still pretty effeminate. To see these strong actresses play strong female inmates would help to update the play's relevance and add a new complexity.
The illusion of a damp, dim, and tight cell is brought to life with a minimalist set and lighting design, created by Mary Hamrick and Dante Olivia Smith. Randall Rodriguez does an excellent job choreographing several convincing fight scenes between the prison inmates. The design team of Deathwatch have worked together seamlessly to achieve the dark dimensions of the play.
Deathwatch is a difficult play to do, being wordy and exposing violent, borderline existential ideals. Despite a few unimaginative directorial choices, the Dialectix Group has done an honest and fully committed presentation of Jean Genet's work.