Anyone who has been gravely hurt by love will identify with the eponymous lead character in Neal Zupancic’s The Tragedy of John. Sure, John (Liam Joynt) has sunk lower than most people, refusing to leave his apartment, rarely even leaving his sofa, and staying emotionally distant from the friends who try to help him. He has a best friend, Steve (Nathan Brisby), who constantly tries to snap him out of his depression, and a houseguest, Amy (Desirée Matthews), who clearly wants to be something more, yet John can see none of it.
All this changes when he meets Julia (Christina Shipp), the girl Steve has decided could be “the one.” And though the action from that point is preordained – it is, after all, called The Tragedy of John, not John’s Really Awesome Life – knowing the outcome doesn’t diminish the pleasure of watching it unfold, especially given this talented cast.
Joynt is very effective as John, both at showing his bland inertia and his vulnerability as he hesitantly tries to open himself up to love again. Shipp, as the free-spirited Julia, is delightful to watch as she teasingly seduces him and eventually breaks his heart and Steve’s. Matthews’ Amy at first seems pleasantly bland; a nice uncomplicated girl who happens to like John. As more of Amy’s history is revealed, Matthews lets that facade slip, revealing a complex and interesting character. Brisby’s Steve was a bit of a disappointment. Early on Julia reveals to John that she thought Steve was gay when she first met him, hence the reason she’s not interested in him as a boyfriend. As Brisby portrays him, this seems like a natural assumption, rather than a misunderstanding. One might assume that would eventually become a plot twist. Brisby commits to his characterization fully; Steve is sweet and sympathetic and when John turns on him, it’s crushing.
Playwright Zupancic has a good ear for language. His dialogue is crisp, real, and very amusing. He also has some clever observations on relationships, romantic or otherwise. In the hands of director Corrine Neal, the play moves smoothly and quickly, though the quick blackouts between scenes lead to a lot of beer bottles and other props littering the stage by the end of the play.
The Tragedy of John is an intelligent and entertaining play with an excellent group of actors. Catch it while you can.
(Also features John Forkner, Greg Engbrecht, and Benjamin G. Bowman)
Copyright 2007 Byrne Harrison
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