Family intrigue, Southern style

The Ball of Roses

By Adrian Bewley
Directed by Marcus Geduld
Sanford Meisner Theatre
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Adam Cooper

The Ball of Roses, written by and starring Adrian Belwey, is an enjoyable if lumpy detective story exploring themes of homophobia and parent-child and teacher-student relationships in a conservative Southern town. The mystery revolves around two high-school teachers as they uncover dark family secrets of one of their prized students.

Greg (Belwey) is an Ivy-educated English teacher who returns to his Southern home town to teach at his old high school. Jack (Duncan Rogers), a locally educated teacher, is an old friend of Greg's and has had an affair with one of their students, Taylor (Amy de Lucia). Taylor is a promising, internally focused student hindered by traditional, controlling parents and haunting memories of her gay older brother David (Haskell King)'s suspicious death.

Greg and Jack competitively attempt to shape Taylor's life. As they push her forward academically, stumbling blocks in her life emerge - including her parents, who force inadequate health care and education on her in the name of religion, the fallout of her affair with Jack, revelations about David's sexuality and his relationship with Greg, and the search for truth over whether David's deadly car accident was in fact a gay-bashing death at the hands of her dictatorial father (Jonathan Smit) and the duplicitous family physician, Dr. Glenn (T.R. Sheilds).

Family secrets are slowly revealed as the play frenetically jumps around in time and space with dramatizations of Taylor's mind juxtaposed with the teachers' pursuit of the truth about David's death. The teachers' efforts to shape Taylor's academic future are mutated to efforts to save her from a seemingly hostile home environment. The credence and validation of Taylor's visions are left ambiguous at play's end just as Taylor's future remains uncertain.

While the production's sense of mystery was enticing, the script is compromised by a lack of focus. The action is dulled by an obsession with the combative relationship between the two self-absorbed teachers. The play's action greatly slows down during the second act as Greg and Jack endlessly and statically argue with each other.

Taylor, an all-important character, is fragmented and largely serves as a mechanism to move forward the unraveling of the play's mystery. Taylor's revelations in Act II come off as devicey, and her responses to them and her instructors' behaviors are illogical and undramatic. Taylor appears too untouched by her father's domination, the vise of strict religious practice, and the machinations of her manipulative teachers. The script would be improved by editing down the teachers' conflict and developing and integrating Taylor more into the action.

Marcus Geduld's direction kept the pace up, the episodic structure clear, and the mystery alive. However, the production would have benefited from a stronger characterization of its Southern locale and more guidance in bringing out subtleties and nuances of the characters.

Given the theater's tight space and the play's many locales, the simple set design (Eric Zoback) was quite efficient and effective. The lighting (Peter Petrino) and sound designs (Carrie Hash) were also successful in sharply establishing and coloring the scenes. (Also featuring Nancy Lindeberg and Roger Motti.)
Box Score:

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

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Copyright 1999 Adam Cooper