|Christopher Folan, Jessica Vautard & Joey Arena in Witness.
Photo by Natalie Schoenbaechler.
By Terrence McNally
Directed by Joey Arena
Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
If you’re looking for a short evening of theater with enough intelligence to keep you scratching your head, you could do worse than check out The Alley Theater’s current production of Terrence McNally’s early play, Witness.
Having premiered off-Broadway in 1968, it is normally paired with another of McNally’s early plays but is presented alone here (hence the short, under-an-hour runtime). It does seem a little dated (it’s an obvious satire on the Kennedy assassination), but mostly succeeds thanks to a game cast and good direction by Joey Arena.
Right from the start we know something is off. A repairman (Scott Davis) is trussed up and gagged in a chair. His captor is a young man (Christopher Folan) who hopes to assassinate the President of the United States during a motorcade that will be passing by just under his apartment window, and he wants a witness to his own sanity in committing the act. We are led to believe that the young man has been driven mad by endless newspaper reading and television watching. He knows all about the cabinet crises in Lebanon, but he doesn’t know right from wrong. He hopes to resolve his baffled impotence with a high-powered rifle shot.
Two other potential witnesses show up on the scene: first, a hilariously surly window washer (Joey Arena), who coolly surveys the tied-up man straining to free his bonds and seems oblivious to his gagged pleas and his plight; and second, an attractive telephone saleslady (Jessica Vautard) who lives upstairs and seems equally unfazed by the situation. An atmosphere of hysterical malediction gradually infests the room, leading to an unexpected and hilarious climax.
The show is almost undone by a flat and one-note performance by Christopher Folan as the central young man character; the script calls for him to be speaking almost constantly and yet his voice never varies. The opening monologue, for example, consisting of his side of a telephone conversation, drones on and on and tries the audience’s patience. He shows potential, but really needs to increase the emotional range in his performance.
The rest of the cast makes the show worth watching. Director Joey Arena is hysterically funny as the gruff window washer who has seen (and is ready with an opinion on) everything; and Scott Davis keeps your attention in what could have been a throwaway role as the bound and gagged repairman. He never says a single word, but his eyes and facial expressions speak volumes. Finally, Jessica Vautard makes the most of her eye-candy role as the invited guest who shows up late in the play and provides a possible love interest and potential way out for the would-be assassin.
The set by Jeffrey Harris and the lighting effects by Sterling Pratt, along with Arena’s direction, make excellent use of the small space of the Alley Theater, and certainly deserve to be seen by more than the tiny audience that attended opening night.
Despite the grisly theme, the play is acridly funny in the playwright’s suggestion that society is teetering toward terror, anarchy and nihilism. And as Arena asks in his director’s notes: Has the outlook changed in the last forty years? Come see this show and see what you think.
Starring Joey Arena, Scott Davis, Christopher Folan, and Jessica Vautard.
January 17-25, 2013
The Alley Theater
1205 E. Washington St.
Louisville, KY 40206