And When Did He Know It?

Photo by Barney EvansThere would seem no better time for a play pitting suburban conservatives against urban liberals. But in WhatCorbinKnew, Jeffrey Hatcher's National Endowment for the Arts-commissioned play, brawling stereotypes end up as wallpaper for would-be affairs and accidental murder. It's the tale of Corbin (Frank Tryon), an architect who invites two couples (one pair red, the other blue) to a skybox at a sports arena and then watches them verbally and physically annihilate each other. Clever in construction, the play's first half dwells on the skybox's interior—strange clashes of hate and guilt that don't always make sense.

Sense comes in Act II, when the stage spins around and we see the same play from the balconyside of the skybox. Here, Act I's gaps are filled; semi-scandalous secrets are revealed—but only semi-scandalous: it's too bad the “seamy” side of the characters isn't seamier. It's also risky contrivance: the inconsistencies from Act I seem more like careless writing than clues to a mystery. Going into Act II, we don't even know there is a mystery.

The play also suffers from a few stretches (among them, a gunshot recorded on a mini tape recorder that sounds as loud as a real gunshot when played back), and Corbin inviting these horrible people to the skybox threetimes—I say they deserve each other. Those nitpicky criticisms aside, Hatcher fires some verbal zingers, and the play is often hilarious. Patti Cumby (Margo, the Suburban Witch) is the shiner in this one, elevating Hatcher's sometimes stumbling banter to real comic genius.

The most amazing part is that Hatcher actually makes us like the conservatives more than the liberals. Given that, it's too bad he shirked off this fascinating, seemingly endless culture war and focused instead on boring old sex. We never thought we'd say that.


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