Another turn of the screw

Earth and Sky

By Douglas Post
Directed by Joseph DeBonis
The (646) Theatre Company
The Walker Space
46 Walker St. (646-522-8606)
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Adam Cooper

One summer evening in Chicago, friendly restaurant entrepreneur David Ames (Christopher Calvo) calls his girlfriend Sarah McKeon (Jennifer Maloney) to cancel their plans together because he must visit a former lover who recently attempted suicide. By the next day Sarah learns that David has been brutally murdered, that he was a nefarious character involved in heinous criminal activity, and that Detective Weber (Gary Price), who is assigned to David’s case, seems more interested in sleeping with Sarah than in solving the crime. Thus begins one of a myriad of head-spinning plot twists in Douglas Post’s Earth and Sky, a detective story exploring love and identity in a corrupt and amoral world.

To solve the murder of her beloved, Sarah, a poet and librarian, becomes an unlikely supersleuth to track down the culprit and to discover the true identity of the person she loved. Leaving her safe world of ideas and books, she ventures into underworld neighborhoods, visiting sketchy establishments and interacting with unsavory and frequently dangerous characters. Her detective work uncovers endless surprises as characters continually turn out not to be whom they appear. Coupled with scenes of unraveling the murder mystery are vignettes exposing Sarah and David’s budding relationship played backwards in time, a device used previously in Pinter’s Betrayal.

While the quality of the production was predominantly lackluster, the mystery story itself was the performance’s strongest component. Post’s script is clever, entertaining, and accessible. The language is clipped and stylized, suggesting a gritty world of characters who view communication as threatening. The phantasmagoric plot relentlessly challenges appearances. With so many twists and turns, the plot devices themselves, though, seem to be what the play is about, thus compromising integrity and value of the characters’ relationships and even the dramatic power of the revelations themselves. Indeed, at the play’s end, rather than having a mind-blowing yet simple resolution to the mystery, Sarah gives a lengthy speech to explain what really happened behind David’s murder.

The actors’ characterizations were mostly one-note and incomplete. Maloney’s determined yet fragile portrayal of Sarah did not justify the character’s remarkable actions. The romantic passion that was an engine for Sarah’s risky investigations did not come across in the love scenes between Calvo and Maloney. Price’s ultra-brusque characterization left no doubt that this cop was somehow involved in the crime. One exception was John Tirpak’s portrayal of bartender Billy Hart, whose performance captured some of the quirkiness and mystery embedded in the text.

Set design (uncredited) seemed to be accomplished without much planning. Making poor use of the extended stage of the Walker Space, playing areas were established too far away from the audience of such a small theater. The set pieces themselves suggested a locale, yet without any sense of character, mood, or ambiance.

Direction (Joseph DeBonis) too was roundly weak, with bloodless performances and slow-tempoed scenes played in awkward places, and without a unique vision that gives life to the world of the script. Lighting (Edward J. Donohue), sound (Frank DiMaulo), and costume (uncredited) design were all adequate but not very inspiring.

(Also featuring John Harman, Laurissa M. James, Marcus Garvey Daniels, Maggie Moor, and Rob Sullivan.)

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2002 Adam Cooper