BWW Review: FROM WHITE PLAINS Delivers Social Justice at THUNDERCLAP PRODUCTIONS
FROM WHITE PLAINS examines the legacy of a high school bully. It starts with a writer winning an Oscar, and during his speech he outs the man that tormented him and his best friend throughout high school for being gay. One suffered so badly he committed suicide from the trauma, and that is why the writer feels he has to name his nemesis. The rest of the play is a meditation on forgiveness, revenge, and asks the question of how much we actually change from those formative years. Can art heal? Can we escape our past and grow up?
FROM WHITE PLAINS is an excellent script by Michael Perlman with an outstanding cast that works on every level that it aims for. It will resonate with anyone who was bullied in high school, and it confronts us all with the very timely question of whether our past defines our present. How far should we hold someone responsible for abuse decades ago? Can we factor in that maybe they grew and changed over the years? Is it fair to seek social justice in the age of the Internet when someone can instantly be fired or destroyed by allegations that were never prosecuted or examined by any impartial judge or jury?
Thunderclap Productions has chosen this piece to kick off a memorial series for John Steven Kellett who was an Exxon executive who passed away and left a grant to produce plays that address equality and discrimination towards the LGBTQIA community. It's an easy piece to produce in that it only requires a simple set and four cast members to deliver it's fiery message. Lily Wolff's direction is paced well, and the show winds out over a tight ninety minutes without any intermission. She has cast four talented actors to play off each other, and that is what makes or breaks FROM WHITE PLAINS. The cast succeeds in mining the nuances and are excellent each in their own right.
Wesley Whitson plays the writer Dennis who propels all the narrative action. He outs the bully, and then goes on a revenge spree making sure his target suffers on social media and in his personal life. Whitson straddles the line of manic and passionate ably, and his emotional swings are impressive to watch. He has a talent for being able to ratchet his emotions up quickly, and that gives Dennis a feral raw quality few actors could pull off. He is an exposed nerve for ninety minutes, and it requires an amazing amount of energy to sustain.
In contrast Domonique L. Champion plays his more calm partner Gregory. The character struggles to make sense of his lover's quest for vengeance, and constantly asks if all of this is going too far. Champion does an outstanding job of portraying the conflict of how to support a loved one when you feel their passions are swallowing your relationship. He's easy to sympathize with, and becomes the emotional conscience of the evening.
Noah Alderfer plays John, the straight best friend of the bully. We see him struggle with the concept his friend did something in the past that drove someone to suicide. Alderfer mines the part for likability, and we believe his sincere delivery in every scene. Like the part of Gregory, this character is having to deal with a legacy he was not a part of. It's interesting emotional territory the actor gets to explore, and he does it well.
Of all the difficult parts in FROM WHITE PLAINS the role of Ethan the bully has to be the most challenging. Greg Cote hits all the right notes of a man who loses faith in himself once he realizes the impact of his actions from the past. It is crushing to watch, and Cote delivers this amazingly well. We watch as he drains himself, and he becomes more and more horrified at how the world reacts to his past self. He questions if he is still "that guy". Cote is the MVP here for playing the truth of a man who never knew how his remarks impacted those around him.
The entire show is a tense meditation that should keep audiences engaged, and give you plenty to talk about after leaving the theater. FROM WHITE PLAINS does what only theater can do, forces you to face a social issue in an intimate setting and gives you no escape. The work reminds me of Mamet's Oleanna in how it addresses a social topic with an unflinching eye. But in contrast, FROM WHITE PLAINS allows a more balanced end result.
This is a fast run for Thunderclap Productions with the show running in the MATCH complex only from March 5th through the 8th. Tickets can be acquired at http://thunderclapproductions.com/from-white-plains/ . After the Saturday evening performance there is a talk back event that permits questions from the audience.
Photo taken by Aaron Alon and featuring Wesley Whitson left and Greg Cote right