Graham Farrow has nothing to say in this California Premiere
Few 65-minute plays—hell, few 65-minute anythings—can match the litany of horrors either enacted or discussed in Graham Farrow's Talk About the Passion, receiving its California premiere at the Chance Theatre.
Child rape and child murder. Kidnapping and hostage-taking. Gasoline dousings and bullet-to-the-temple executions.
Disgusted yet? Try this: In a father's recurring dream, his son grows up to be a professional athlete-for the fucking Clippers!
Yes, grotesqueries abound. But the most startling element of this production isn't the graphic description of a 6-year-old's rape; it's how all the creepiness and cruelty seems so neutered.
Some of that is the fault of David Colwell's uninspired staging, which neither builds toward a satisfying climax nor generates much intensity. This is a two-character hostage play in which one character yearns for vengeance and the other for escape. It ought to feel like Dog Day Afternoon meets The Desperate Hours. Colwell's flaccid pacing and diffused focus prevent suspense and a sense of heightened stakes from developing.
Then again, the script blows. Any play that begins with a character on a telephone and ends with a previously unseen device serving as the deus ex machina has structural and credibility issues. It's not quite as gospel as a gun in the first act always goes off in the third, but it's a safe bet that whenever a playwright relies on gimmicks and one-way dialogue with absent characters to tell a story, he doesn't have much of a story to tell in the first place.
Not that Passion's premise isn't interesting, in a tawdry, wreck-on-the-highway kind of way. We find ourselves in the office of an ambitious book editor (an entirely uninteresting Laurel Feierbach, who seems neither urbane, professional, calculating nor greedy enough) who helped turn a murderer's exploits into a best-seller. As the families of those he killed die a little more each passing day, the criminal revels in celebrity, feasting on caviar and duck à l'orange, and pulling, according to one character, more pussy than he'll ever see.
(Don't bother asking how a man who fucks, and then kills, kids manages to score caviar in prison, let alone pussy or even orange zest, while the families of his prey suffer in silence. Apparently, this universe contains co-ed prisons equipped with Iron Chefs and is refreshingly free of annoying Fred Goldman and John Walsh types.)
Into said office bursts Jason Carroway (a sturdy Casey Long), whose 6-year-old son was one of the killer's victims. Pushed to the edge of insanity by both the horrifying loss of his son and the murderer profiting from the story, Jason's decided to channel his inner Charles Bronson. No, not by executing similar killers before their crimes—that would be entirely implausible. Instead, he's going after the real criminal: the evil editor who helped set up the killer's book deal.
All this, of course, leads to what amounts to a blubbery Dr. Phil session (Guilt! Shame! Redemption!) punctuated by occasional spasms of violence and capped by a twist that will either delightfully remind you of the magic of live theater, or leave you cringing at its shameless contrivance.
Count this fool in the latter camp. This kind of surprise plot twist belongs in a mystery thriller such as Deathtrap or Accomplice. Farrow's resorting to such a manipulative tactic in a play that deals with such hot-button topics as criminals profiting from their crimes and the human fallout thereof underscores that he has very little to say. It also raises a question: When a playwright uses an emotionally charged issue in order to make a play feel more relevant and socially conscious, is that issue nothing more than just another device? If so, is the playwright as exploitative as his characters?
Talk about the Passion at the Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills, (714) 777-3033; www.chancetheater.com. Thurs., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Through March 16. $22-$25.