Are we truly free, or are we, like so many others, prisoners of our own sense of powerlessness? Paul Angelo Viggiano's angry new play, Hostage, poses these questions in uncompromising, in-your-face terms, in a production directed by Steven McElroy that was by turns stimulating, frustrating, claustrophobic and at times exhilarating.
The production began in total darkness as Rodney, played with sympathetic charm by Christopher Sias, talks to what we assume is the audience. But it quickly becomes apparent the he has actually been talking to a bound and blindfolded woman, Janis. (One learns early on in this play never to assume.) Presently, they are joined by Peter, a virulently angry young man, who may or may not be the brains behind what may or may not be a kidnapping. Without giving too much of the convoluted plot away, suffice to say tables continuously turn, and at various points in the evening, in blackout and in full light, each of the three main characters takes a stab at being in control of the situation. We never do learn the reasons behind everything that has gone on, but somehow that doesn't matter because that doesn't seem to be the point.
According to his program bio, Hostage is Viggiano's first attempt at playwriting, and it is an admirable one. He has managed to avoid many of the pitfalls first time playwrights hurl themselves into, most importantly the endless, unnecessary exposition and over-plotting that plague so many nascent efforts. His script, while not completely clear as to his characters' motivations, is at least crisp and professional, at best sharp and breathtaking in its command of poetic frustration.
Likewise, McElroy's production was jaggedly vibrant, and if at times it veered dangerously out of control, the energy expended by the inexhaustible cast kept interest going. As Janis, Alexis Croucher wore an understandable chip on her shoulder most attractively, and Todd W. Jones was absolutely frightening with his intense performance as the enigmatic Peter. Smaller roles were ably handled by Eric Chase as a drunk who wanders into the action, and Joy Schiebel as a homeless schizophrenic. Schiebel, in fact, was riveting in her dramatic, if overlong, monolog that closes the piece.
Iva Hacker-Delaney's lighting was sufficiently sinister, but Jones's set, beautifully finished as it was, may have been a tad too attractive to be completely convincing as the dingy, abandoned wreck of a tenement it was supposed to be. The contemporary costumes (uncredited), looked like they came out of the performer's own wardrobes, yet they were appropriate to the characters and mood of the play.
In a city overloaded with aspiring playwrights, Paul Angelo Viggiano is lucky to have the support of The New Ensemble Theatre Company. And The New Ensemble Theatre company is lucky to have such an auspicious talent as part of their fold. May they continue to find mutually satisfying success by building and feeding off each other's strengths.
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Copyright 1999 Doug DeVita