Andrew Rothkin's Danny (and God and John and Me) is a character-driven '90s play reminiscent of the film The Big Chill. On the anniversary of their friend Danny's death, former acting students gather to remember him. Most of them have been leading unsatisfying lives, and they are bitter with disillusionment. They attempt to recall past glories while struggling to survive their long-extinct friendships. An outsider disrupts their illusion and stimulates self-evaluation. Yet this play is devoid of interesting characters, compelling drama, and a thoughtful exploration of failure to achieve adulthood.
Their ritual is sustained solely by cheerful, conciliatory Darcie (Stephanie Roy). She is also central to keeping the others from attacking one another. Gary (Liam Joynt) is a colorless yet talented post-hippie complete with guitar, pot, booze, and all-black apparel. He spends his time exchanging verbal barbs with his fire-breathing ex-girlfriend Nadine (Katie Merg). Marco (Mark Gallop) is an extraordinarily frustrated and flamboyant office manager who hits on everyone and makes obscene sexual remarks. The only non-venomous characters are John (Andrew Rothkin) and Filipe (Dave Romano), a new couple who get caught up in the friends' mutual flagellation.
Set in a graveyard, this play is immersed in death. These former students have failed to actualize their dreams of becoming professional actors. Drowning in rage, sadness, and living death, they spend the play ripping each other to pieces with static, repetitive insults. All of them have some coping mechanism: drugs, religion, hatred, or abandonment of the theatre. Darcie struggles fruitlessly to hold the group together. She offers sustenance, stimulates remembrances of worn-out theatre production memories, and lugs out the photo album. She fails to motivate the others to contribute much to the event. The high point for them is Marco singing "Danny's Day Cabaret," a collection of cheesy 70s pop tunes and TV themes. The bubble inevitably bursts when John challenges the occasion's validity. He exclaims he will not return and urges everyone to move on. Darcie promotes honoring the past. The ideological battle barely nudges the characters as they leave to continue sleepwalking through life.
Revisions of this overwritten play should incorporate a study of The Big Chill. Unlike the film, these characters are thinly drawn and have little to say beyond verbal violence. The play remains barrenly flat until John disrupts the ritual which, near the play's end, is the single moment of dramatic (albeit melodramatic) tension. The ideas of alienation and disillusionment are certainly germane to post-modern America, but here they are rendered undramatically in largely inconsequential moralizing monologues. Rothkin and Romano, who provide the strongest performances, offer the only escape from unending negativity. There needs to be hope, especially in a play about hopelessness.
The liveliest part of the production was the set design (Richard
Piper and Scott Rosenfeld), which was colorful, sharp,
and evocatively surreal. Costume design (Melody Cooper)
was also well-executed, giving the characters quick definition
if not individuation. Lighting design (Scott Rosenfeld)
was simple and underutilized. Direction (Laura Hackman) was thoughtful
and admirable given the script's limitations.
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Copyright 2001 Adam Cooper