Life without parole

The Sentence

By Alex Menza
Directed by Robert Kreis
Thirteenth St. Rep.
50 W. 13th St.
Fri., Sat., Sun. at 7 p.m.
Non-union production (closes May 21)
Review by Doug DeVita

In The Sentence, a judge must sentence a local politician found guilty of accepting a bribe. His wife, his mistress, his son, a fellow judge, and a political consultant all seek to influence his decision as he wages a battle with his own conscience.

Alex Menza, a former Superior Court judge, has written a lean, old-fashioned drama that scrutinizes the judicial system, the political system, and the judge's personal code of ethics with a decidedly contemporary logic. As the play builds to its unabashedly melodramatic conclusion, it asks more questions than it answers and, as most politically motivated theatre should, leaves one asking, "How would I react in a similar situation?"

With a refreshing, no-nonsense crispness, Robert Kreis directed the work with a minimum of fuss, while maximizing both the potential of the script and the abilities of his six-member cast. As Walter, the judge in question, Michael Whitney nicely balanced his character's pomposity with a genuine sense of his anguish without over-playing either. Bryen Luethy was outstanding as Walter's problem son Eddie, as was Karla Chandler as Walter's lonely, neglected wife, Margaret. Her tender, exquisitely drawn portrait of a woman who has subjugated her needs to her family's was subtle, intelligent, and completely heartbreaking. In lesser roles, Nancy Nagrant and Joe Calvo lent solid support. Only Rudy Crichlow as a fellow judge seemed ill-at-ease. Eyes darting everywhere, stiff and given to declamatory pontificating, on the one or two occasions when he did focus on his on-stage partner, he relaxed enough to give every indication of a performer still finding his stage legs.

With no set to speak of (just a few pieces of well-placed furniture and a ton of props, including fresh, steaming coffee), the burden of delineating the play's many locales was carried by Kreis's nearly seamless staging and Monica Stephenson's effortless, immaculate lighting. The costumes (uncredited) were simple and to the point.

Running less than an hour and a half, The Sentence nevertheless packs a hefty amount of information and emotion into its swiftly paced 75 minutes. If Menza's stakes are not all that high (it is, after all, a local politician who is under sentence, and the sum of money in question a paltry $2500), and the story and arguments familiar, it was nevertheless a thought-provoking, absorbing, and ultimately entertaining evening.

(Alternate cast: Jeff Beech, Michael Boland, Martha Fletcher, David Long, Robb Patterson, and Sarah Spinner.)
Box Score

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costume: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2000 Doug DeVita