Gray area Christmas

11th Hour

By J. Holtham
Directed by Bradley Campbell
Vital Theatre Company
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Deborah S. Greenhut

According to the program notes, 11th Hour asks two questions: "Should old ideals be forgot? Or should our dreams never come to mind?" The answers provided by playwright J. Holtham seem to be something more like, "kinda, sorta," rather than anything definite or enduring. Not exactly "Auld Lang Syne."

Ambivalence figures heavily in the intertwined Gen-X lives of protagonist Jordan (Kim Donovan) -- a talented temp who’d rather be a poet, who hooks up with the aptly named Reed -- as in "bends with the wind" (Timothy Davis), an investment banker; a roommate named Nerf -- like the foam (Joanna Liao), short for "Jennifer"; and Gig -- a putative musician who occasionally has one (Christopher Burke).

The play picks up Jordan’s life at a moment when everything is spinning out of control. Her scattershot, last-minute decisions undermine the play’s claim to being a romantic comedy, however. The most likable character is, in fact, Reed -- the one who should be most hated. Reed does sell out, after all, but unlike the others, he has feelings and, at least within his own compass, a set of values. The most coherent performance came from Davis, who invested the piece with more focus than the playwright offers.

While Donovan opened the play with a strong display of turmoil, it is difficult to empathize with her character because the writer denies her a moral compass. Her dreams seem not to matter because her current passions -- "tacky knick-knacks and investment bankers" -- betray her (shallow) values. Deeply confused, Jordan has stolen a symbolic knickknack from her apparently happier sister’s ceramic village set. That theft is the beginning of a slippery slope for all of the characters.

Jordan, once voted "second most artistic" classmate, remains a dormant poet ten years after graduation from high school. By contrast, Reed, "Most likely to never leave his parents’ basement," has moved on -- to Goldman Sachs, no less. Holtham’s writing is strongest when he lets his characters evoke the bittersweet humor of a Christmas from hell -- "If that is growing up," Jordan opines when hearing about Reed’s happier fate, "that is just fucked." Yes. But less clear is the arrangement among roommates in Jordan’s apartment. "Living here," they agree, "can suck a lot -- but it’s our life." Ambivalence, however, is not quite bliss. The undesirable roommate, Gig, often draws fire from both women for his lack of commitment to anyone or anything, but that doesn’t stop them from clinging to him when the going gets rough. The gray river of denial that runs through the play drags everyone through its mud. They can’t stop fucking up. Art imitates their lives. The quick-cut scenes, coupled with the sometimes longer scene changes, make apt illustrations of the roommates’ short attention spans. Paradoxically, only Reed, despite his name, can stick with the program, for he, it turns out, has suffered a loss that has forces him to grow up. He can speak the poetry that Jordan only dreams of. While the script encourages the audience to identify Jordan as the protagonist, it is Reed’s story, finally, that grabs everyone’s attention. Whereas he has already made the journey, the others can’t even find the path. Ultimately, it is not clear why Jordan’s bad behavior is so well-rewarded.

Music throughout provided the appropriate "Christmas in July feeling" for this summer production. An excellent set, designed and painted by Lex Liang, drove home the point about ambivalence most aptly. Lighting was a crucial special effect in this play, well-executed by Neal Freeman. Director Bradley Campbell saw his efforts rewarded in the performances of Donovan and Davis, especially; Liao expressed a great range of character from gnome-like to caustic; Burke needed restraint.

Box Score:

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

Return to Volume Eleven, Number Seven Index

Return to Volume Eleven Index

Return to Home Page

Copyright 2004 Deborah S. Greenhut