|April Singer, Ryan Watson, Scot Atkinson and
J.P. Lebangood in Things We Want. Photo – The Bard’s Town.
By Jonathan Marc Sherman
Directed by J.P. Lebangood
Reviewed by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Things We Want seems like a play about selfish impulse masquerading as empowerment, which makes it involving and provocative if not as satisfying as we might hope it to be. A simple, repetitive narrative structure takes it easy on the audience, yet rich dialogue keeps the ideas bouncing around with some complexity.
The plot concerns Charlie, who has returned home to lick his wounds after a break-up. His two older brothers present a contrast: Sty spends the first scenes in an alcoholic stupor; while Teddy, the firstborn, displays confidence and reason in the advice he shares with his baby brother. When Stella, a comely upstairs neighbor, arrives in a school girl’s outfit (part of a singular birthday ritual), she and Charlie hit it off and the first act ends on a hopeful note.
What happens after intermission is best left to discover for yourself, but it nicely mirrors the earlier action, and Mr. Sherman smartly juxtaposes incident and details without straining credulity. What seems laudable at first is later framed as self-gratification, and the implication is clear that grabbing what we want in life is more often than not a selfish act that can leave others in the dust. The play is funny and entertaining, but the extreme pessimissim may leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.
A good cast, under the capable direction of J.P. Lebangood, give the sour a sweet spin. Ryan Watson has the range to do many things, but he is particularly good at rendering soft, American males with hair-trigger neurosis and makes Charlie his own. As Sty (short for the improbable Stuyvesant), Scot Atkinson cuts a shabby and ramshackle figure when he emerges from his couch to set things in motion and makes us wonder why this good actor has spent so much time behind the scenes directing at The Bard’s Town. Mr. Lebangood does double-duty playing Teddy and gives the character real edge and danger. His scenes late in the evening with April Singer’s Stella are unexpected and bracing; the two actors enjoy a heady chemistry that delivers a visceral onstage charge.
Their fine work lends these characters perhaps more dimension than the text promises. In order to make his points, Mr. Sherman’s story exchanges organic growth for artificial dichotomies that, while undeniably clever, fail to fully engage the audience emotionally. A year passes between the first and second acts, with changes in the characters that are not so much explained as assumed. The audience follows the trajectory well enough because it is grounded in cliché. When the action is genuinely surprising and fresh in its observation, it is to expose the darker side of human desire with acrid distaste.
Costumes and sets were suitably drawn and in the end, the work of the well-cast quartet of actors, as well as the pleasure of a play new to Louisville, makes this a production worth recommending.
Things We Want
May 9-18 @ 7:30 p.m.
The Bard’s Town Theatre
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville KY 40204