Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Whorl Inside a Loop **

Sherie Rene Scott and Dick Scanlan, who brought us “Everyday Rapture” a few years ago, are back at Second Stage with another work inspired by actual events. In 2011 the two of them gave a one-day workshop on personal narrative for a class of convicted murderers at an upstate prison. It was so successful that they kept coming back to develop the prisoners’ narratives into a show that was presented for a prison audience. Now they have turned a fictionalized version of that workshop into a play. Scott plays The Volunteer, an actress whose less than noble reasons for being at the prison to teach a 12-session workshop are not at first revealed. Worse, after pledging to the men that their stories would not leave the room, she proceeds, in secret, to use them to develop a play for the public. There is a half-baked subplot that has Hillary visiting the prison to see a performance. The prison scenes alternate with considerably less successful scenes outside in which the prisoners crudely impersonate Scott’s husband, son, lawyer, producer, hair stylist and Hillary. One wishes that the authors had stuck to the prisoners’ narratives, which are quite powerful and well-performed. The other parts of the play are muddled and dilute the impact. A twist at the end that raises the question of who is actually telling whose story didn’t quite work for me. I had trouble separating Scott’s performance from the unsympathetic character she portrays. The rest of the cast — Derrick Baskin, Nicholas Christopher, Chris Myers, Ryan Quinn Daniel J. Watts, Donald Webber Jr. — is excellent and the core material is worthwhile. Too bad they didn’t just go with that. Michael Mayer co-directed with Scanlan. Incidentally, the title refers to a rare fingerprint pattern. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes; no intermission. 

P.S. Second Stage's Tony Kiser Theatre has to be the least audience-friendly theater built in the last 20 years. The seats are narrow and low, the padding is thin, the legroom minimal and there are no handrails on the center aisle. To sit for more than an hour was punishing.

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