BWW Reviews: THE LONG SHRIFT Gives a Worthy Subject The Short Shrift
"Rape is rape," goes the recent motto, but for much of his new drama first-time playwright Robert Boswell asks the audience to consider if a rape has occurred when a lack of communication leaves two legal adults with completely different beliefs regarding the mutual consent of their sexual encounter.
And if he had stuck with that premise, The Long Shrift might have whipped up a lot more interest and perhaps a bit of controversy, but the 100-minute piece, overstuffed with obvious symbolism, heavy-handed dialogue, a ridiculous plot turn, some metaphysical shenanigans and a frustratingly convenient late-inning revelation, steadily separates itself from its initial promise.
Married Houstonians Henry (gentle and sensitive Brian Lally) and Sarah (sharp-tongued Ally Sheedy) have gone nearly broke paying for the unsuccessful legal defense of their 18-year-old son, Richard (Scott Haze), who has begun serving a nine-year sentence for the rape of a high school classmate.
They've sold their house and, in the opening expository scene, are settling into a small, depressing home near the prison. Sarah, however, has no intention of ever visiting her son.
Though he's described as being a sweet, nerdy high-school senior with a promising future, when we see Richard in the next scene, years later, he's a tightly wound bundle of quiet tension.
Richard was freed after five years when his accuser, Beth (Ahna O'Reilly), recanted her story, resulting in celebratory headlines in the local paper and her being ostracized by her family and community.
Though she still believes Richard raped her, she is determined to extend a friendly hand and begin a healing process that includes his attending their 10th year high school anniversary.
Richard wants nothing to do with her or the classmates he believe turned their backs on him, but when Beth acquires the assistance of bubbly class president Macy (Allie Gallerani, playing dumb perkiness way over the top) he agrees to making a public reconciliation between himself and Beth a part of the evening's entertainment. Of course, Richard has a different kind of presentation in mind.
First time director James Franco has been performing eight shows a week in the Broadway revival of Of Mice And Men, so it's unlikely he's seen many of The Long Shrift's preview performances. While he can't be faulted for the play's shortcomings, actors frequently look awkward and unmotivated in his bland staging.
Haze does a fine job, always looking like Richard is on the verge of a violent reaction but is smart enough to suppress his urges. In a conflict that needs to be even-handed to be interesting, Haze's Richard is far more sympathetic than O'Reilly's Beth, even when he's being cruel.
It seems the inexperience of the playwright and the director may have given a worthy subject the short shrift.