Secrets, lies, and betrayals

...Or Forever Hold Your Peace

By Alex Fink & Lee Cohn
Directed by Lee Cohn
Nonagon Theater & Film
New 42nd Street Theater
Non-union production (closed)
Review by David Mackler

As the audience was taking its seats for Nonagon Theater & Film's production of Alex Fink and Lee Cohn's ...Or Forever Hold Your Peace, Lily (Sara Paul) was setting up the apartment set for a party. Guests arrived, chatted, mingled, drank, and munched. The actors seemed at ease, so as a set-up this boded well. But it was also the last natural or real moment the play had. Not because people aren't as thoughtless or petty in real life as they are in this play, and not because people don't say the hurtful things these guys and gals do, but because a play requires that characters say and do these things. In this play, generally well-meaning actors spoke lines that had the rhythm and punch of a low-grade sitcom crossed with a made-for-Lifetime movie.

Hari (Ramesh Ganeshram) and Janie (Jamee Damron) are getting married tomorrow, and the party is the last celebration before the big event. None of their friends are poster children for healthy relationships, and Hari and Janie have had their ups and downs. But the play's problems begin right away, when Trent (Mark Intrieri), Hari's best man, gives a toast that recaps at length the plot-up-until-now. Since everyone on stage would already know this stuff, it is only for the audience's benefit, but the audience was way ahead already. The conflicts are obvious ones - Trent drinks too much and is an operator; Jay (John Stagnari) eats too much, snipes at his wife, and resents not having been picked as best man; Lily resents not being picked as maid of honor - or is it Carol (Elizabeth Copley) who resents that? It became difficult to remember, since none of it was adding up to much. Jay's wife Siobhan (Janda Rae Mott) was surly but identifiable because she was Irish, but the reason for that seems only to be for an Act 2 joke about her grandparents. Brian (Kevin Gooley) seems to hang around in the background until his big blow-up late in the proceedings. Only Paul, Ganeshram and Damron managed to bring any interest or humanity to their cardboard characters.

Structurally the play had no surprises. When conversation gets to Hari's bachelor party and what actually happened there, the scene changes to Scores, the strip club, and we see what happened. Well, mostly. There's Brandi (Michelle Fantaci), the stripper, who is also available for private entertainment, which has already been paid for by the other guys. But when she is demeaned as a prostitute, she angrily asserts that she does it for the money because law school tuition is expensive. Well, OK - there at least is the possibility of an interesting character, but the play is more interested in her as a red herring, since Hari first storms out, then comes back for her. So did they, or didn't they? The play is full of such plot "possibilities" and "twists" - the wedding is on and off more times than can be kept track of, and no one is as they are originally presented. This is not character development; it is playwright manipulation.

None of the dialog comes close to prompting interest in this bunch. When they're not fighting, resenting, or betraying each other, they seem to be watching Nick At Nite. They're all versed in popular culture; a reference to one of Ralph Kramden's signature phrases got more of a response than any of their increasingly frantic antics.

The apartment set of Hari and Janie (designed by Londo Massey) was quite believable; the Scores set less so. The lighting (designed by Ray Thys) was appropriate to the settings, and the costumes were most likely courtesy the actors. The director (Lee Cohn) was also the co-writer, which goes a long way toward explaining why a weak script was not better shaped or made vibrant in spite of itself.

 Box Score:

Writing: 0
Directing: 0
Acting: 1
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2001 David Mackler