...Or Forever Hold Your Peace

by Alex Fink
directed by Lee Cohn
Nonagon Theater and Film
Atlantic 453
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Julie Halpern

Nonagon Theater and Film evolved from an improvisational acting class taught by Lee Michael Cohn. Members of the class wanted to keep working together as an improv group and a vibrant new company was born. ...Or Forever Hold Your Peace is the culmination of an ongoing project created by the actors, Fink, and Lee Michael Cohn, and developed as a play by Cohn. The young, attractive company already enjoy a following, playing to sold-out houses. If their maiden voyage more closely resembles a contemporary sitcom than Second City, their enthusiasm and engaging personalities compensate for the less than fully realized endeavor and bode well for the future.

The action takes place at a party on the eve of the wedding of Hari and Janie, two emotionally immature yuppies in their early thirties. Old friends are there to support them, but through the drunken haze of celebration old secrets, hurts, and hidden agendas resurface, causing the couple to rethink their decision. The evening is reminiscent of a raucous fraternity party, replete with excessive, gratuitous profanity and sophomoric behavior. Old stories and slides from college days set the mood for the betrayals and recriminations to come.

The performances were uneven, with some actors contributing polished, professional work, and others still at the training stage. Ramesh Ganeshram was very appealling as the fresh-faced Hari, a nice guy with a disturbing secret. Jamee Damron's portrayal of the blonde, golden-girl Janie had tons of charm, but ultimately not much inner life. Mark Intrieri totally embodied the character of the alcoholic, vengeful Trent, making a repellent character very intriguing. Liz Weiss as Mel, Trent's long-suffering wife, seemed to have little emotional stake in their troubled marriage, playing the same level of annoyance throughout. John Stagnari offered a complex, fascinating portrait of Jay, a shallow, sports-crazed drunk who ignores his beautiful wife Siobhan. Stagnari's loutish character evolved touchingly as he revealed his lack of self-worth and failure to make Siobhan happy. Breege Wrynn as his wife, a dancer whose career failed to materialize, was sensitive and heartbreaking, and her final scenes had a shocking twist. Kevin Gooley's Brian appeared to be the voice of reason among his immature friends, but turned out the sleaziest of all, in a powerful and disturbing performance. Suzanne Aptman as Brian's wife, Carol was less successful in tapping into the levels needed to convey Brian's betrayal more palpably, resorting to yelling when more subtlety might have made her character more sympathetic. Mary Louise Mooney was malevolently hilarious as Janie's less favored, foulmouthed sister Lily. Mooney revealed a lifetime of slights by her sister with tightly controlled sarcasm in a raw, vulnerable performance.

Cohn's direction was fast-paced and exuberant, leading his cast gamely through unexpected twists and turns. The sets, by Stagnari, Londo Massey, and David Weiss, were creative, and easy to move around. Fink's sound cues were much too loud, jarring rather than enhancing the proceedings. Ray Thys's lights were bright and colorful, and the uncredited costumes looked great on everyone.
Box Score:

Writing: 1

Directing: 1

Acting: 1

Set: 1

Costumes: 1

Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2000 Julie Halpern