BWW Reviews: THE RECOMMENDATION Explores American Myth of a Classless Society at the Flea
From the moment he saunters on stage wrapped only in a towel and asks a member of the audience to hold his clothes so he can get dressed, we have the character Aaron Feldman pegged. He is a son of privilege, charming and friendly but used to getting his way, always having people do things for him.
When we first see Dwight Barnes, he's sitting in a jail cell, with a mean stare - and he too is a familiar figure, although more from TV and the movies.
How the two characters clash, and what it means, is more or less the subject of Jonathan Caren's The Recommendation, a play at The Flea through September 22 that considers the nature of friendship and attempts to offer us a glimpse at the class system in America.
The play is narrated by the third character, Iskinder Iodouku , or Izzy, who meets Aaron as his roommate in their freshman year at Brown. Izzy is the son of a modestly middle class father who immigrated from Ethiopia and a white American mother.
"Everyone who is anyone knows someone like Feldman," Izzy (James Fouhey) tells us. "It's not that he's any better than the rest of us. He just knows how to seize an opportunity. And being smart, privileged and white as the sky is when you die-- the opportunities were there for the taking."
Feldman (Austin Trow), who wants to be liked, brings Izzy into his fold, helps him get friends, gives him free tickets to concerts and sports events, and, when the time comes, asks his father, who is a lawyer, to write Izzy a recommendation that (we are led to understand) gets him accepted into UCLA Law School.
They both wind up in L.A., Izzy eventually becoming a corporate attorney, Feldman pursuing a career as a filmmaker, first by working as a Hollywood bigwig's assistant. All is going according to plan, if not as fast as Feldman might like, when he is arrested for having a broken taillight and taken to a holding cell, where he meets Dwight (Barron B. Bass.)
Feldman is scared, and makes a promise to help Dwight with any legal problems he has in exchange for protection from the other prisoners.
What follows in the second act five years later involving all three of the characters, is, on the surface, implausible, and, beneath the surface, muddled. At the same time, the points Caren is making lean towards the obvious: We may think we live in a classless society, but our day-to-day living (e.g. our reliance on letters of recommendation) proves otherwise.
The playwright has created Dwight more as a narrative device than a person as fully developed as the other two characters; Dwight feels constructed from the outside.
Yet there is an unmistakable talent at play here, and Dwight is too quirky and distinct to be a complete stereotype.
It helps that all three performers, who take off their shirts with some frequency, are not just in good physical shape. Trow expertly navigates the terrain of his character's personality, simultaneously likeable and somebody you really don't want to like. Fouhey is suitably low-key. Bass surely could have a career playing thugs on TV, which I'm hoping he resists. I don't know that I can fully recommend The Recommendation, but consider this a letter of recommendation for its cast.