BWW Review: FOR THE LOYAL Brings Out the Liar In All Of Us
Lee Blessing's latest play For the Loyal receives its West Coast premiere at Sixty-six Theatre Co. With a cast of five stellar actors and directed ingeniously by artistic director Paul Rush, For the Loyal is set in a typically American University town where the football coach comes under scrutiny for molesting a young boy. The play is intelligent, immensely thought-provoking and should be a big draw for audience who love gritty, humanely penetrating theatre.
The boy (Danny Martha) enters the storyline at the top as Mia (Hilty Bowen), seven months pregnant, finds out from her husband Toby, assistant football coach (Torrey Drake) that Coach Carlson (Mark Youngs pictured above) has had sexual relations with him. Toby caught them naked, drinking and of course, when Mia learns this devastating fact, she thinks only of her soon to be newborn son. She wants to save him from Carlson's sick behavior, so she starts thinking about what she can do to protect him. Coach Hale (Eddie Alfano) tells Toby and Mia that Carlson is being dismissed from the staff and that they are to stay out of the police investigation. Toby has a career to think of, but tortured Mia cares only about her son. She kills Carlson and goes to prison ... or does she?
Blessing is considered one of today's great living American Playwrights. Like most American men, he loves sports and manages quite remarkably to tell a story about a community, more specifically a family, who are directly involved and who suffer from a crime perpetrated by someone in the chain of command. Every character has two sides, and Blessing never shies away from showing us both. Mia is further guilt-ridden because her best friend Laurie had been abused by her father and had committed suicide. Mia feels responsible for not stopping her and carries this guilt into the scenario with Coach Carlson. Blessing moves back and forth from past to future and back again but the riveting flashbacks and flash forwards pay off. We become deeply engrossed and feel Mia's pain.
If I were to make a choice, I would say that the core of the play is in Mia's head, that she never kills Carlson, even though she desperately wants to. Blessing leaves the decision to each audience member witnessing the story.
Under Rush's fluid staging, the ensemble are all outstanding. Bowen gives her all to Mia's dilemma. Drake as well brilliantly shows Toby's conflict as her perplexed husband. Martha is quite amazing, as he essays a few boys caught under the coach's spell, as well as Mia and Toby's grown son. The boy liked what he did and does not feel it necessary to justify his sexual behavior. Coach Carlson, played beautifully by Youngs, also exposes himself for who he is, talking about loving sex with young boys, and despite a marriage and children of his own, he prefers to live that way. This is the first time I have seen on stage or screen a predator admitting his love for who he truly is. Alfano plays Hale, a cop and other small roles. His contribution to the acting team is equally mesmerizing.
Rush as director has Toby, for example, leave by different exits in his own home, so we cannot be sure if the scene has actually occurred. That is the beauty of directing such a piece, leaving it up to us to decide what is real and what is not.
Do not miss For the Loyal! Of course, it is about loyalty. For the men, they must be loyal at all costs to the program. Mia is ahead of her time displaying a woman's bravery and questioning her duty to stand up and fight for what is right. In our current political upheaval, we may question loyalty from our superiors who lie to us and first, to themselves. Great job from the Sixty-six Theater Co for which they should feel rightfully proud!