BWW Reviews: NCTC's TAILS OF WASPS Explores the 'What' of Scandal But Lacks the 'Why'
A world premiere play from one of Seattle's best, Stephanie Timm, directed by one of Seattle's best, Darragh Kennan and from one of Seattle's best theatre groups, New Century Theatre Company. Seems like a dead lock winner right? But while I still found "Tails of Wasps" currently playing at ACT thoroughly engaging and interesting I wasn't so blown away by it as I have been by others from this group. And yes, I may be holding them up to a higher standard, but that's what you get for consistently being on the top.
Don't get me wrong; it's still a fascinating tale. We get to be flies on the wall in the hotel room of newly elected Congressman Frank Davis (Paul Morgan Stetler), a handsome and charismatic politician with a voracious sexual appetite. And what starts off as a harmless flirtation from pretty campaign staffer, Rachel (Brenda Joyner), soon devolves into a history of a man desperately trying to cling to an unresolved sexual fantasy.
Timm's dialog is, as usual, super fresh and rich as she leads her characters through a series of encounters. And the story as a whole has a distinct setup, fall and resolution ultimately leading into a tragic futility for the character. But the arc of the story seems to be missing the "why" of the journey making the ending feel a bit incomplete. Why does he feel the need to do this? Why does he want to redeem himself? And why do we care about this man and his actions? Sure, everyone loves a political sex scandal but I was expecting a more elegant and complex "aha" moment at the end that just never came. And without that it feels more like a scene or character study than a play.
The ensemble is nothing short of spectacular. Stetler walks a very fine line with the politician's will he or won't he to the point that we never really see the cracks in his armor and how flawed of a man he really is until the end. It's a truly layered performance and absolutely stunning and honest. And the four women who weave together this tapestry of a broken man each play their parts and their purposes beautifully. Joyner has the sweet naiveté mixed with heady lust that completely sells the setup. Sylvie Davidson as Becca serves up the fall of the man bite by bite as she shows some amazing duplicity of her character that teases out his true nature. Betsy Schwartz is at the same time hilarious and heart breaking as Frank's wife Deboragh, caught up in dealing with his mess both personally and professionally while trying to retain her own sanity. And Hannah Mootz brings in the delicious straightforward futility of the situation with the no frills J and shows just how far Frank has fallen and how much further he can fall.
Kennan has assembled an impressive ensemble and set the intention and pace of each scene perfectly and when coupled with the wonderfully inventive set and location from Peter Dylan O'Connor they create a fully immersive theatrical experience. It's just that lack of theatrical epiphany that kept the show from being put over the top for me. It's still entertaining and has some fantastic performances that earn it a solid YAY with my three letter rating system but without that final spark it just can't go further than that.