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BWW Reviews: Ground UP Productions' ASYMMETRIC at 59E59 Theaters Offers Theatrical Thrills

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Mac Rogers's New York premiere play "Asymmetric" holds the distinction of being the only live theater thriller this audience member has seen. As staged by director Jordana Williams in the intimate Theater C at 59E59 Theaters, this play about troubled former CIA agent Josh Ruskin and his duplicitous ex-wife Sunny Black will leave audience members on the edge of their seats. Though lacking in emotional resonance, the production benefits from having an original theatrical concept backed by strong acting.

"Asymmetric" follows down-on-his-luck, alcoholic, former spy expert Josh (Sean Williams). At the top of the play, Josh's former boss Zach (Seth Shelden) asks him back to his old CIA stomping grounds to work on a case that no other agent seems able to crack. Turns out Josh's former CIA unit, The Fifth Floor, has been infiltrated by a mole: Josh's ex-wife Sunny Black (Kate Middleton, who expertly plays out both the sweet and sour qualities inherent in her character's name). Along with fellow agent Ford (Rob Maitner) and Zach, Josh must see if he can pry the truth out of Sunny - and come face-to-face with his conflicting feelings for her.

In "Asymmetric," Rogers has successfully created a play full of suspense. Fans of crime novels or shows such as "CSI" will certainly appreciate that Rogers has brought that type of mysteriousness to the stage. And Williams' intimate staging puts the audience right in the middle of the action -I was mere feet from the actors in the interrogation room, and they played to all sides of the theater. Travis McHale's set design and lighting also add to the sense of eeriness; the sparse interrogation room with a plain table and two chairs (and a lurking photo of President Obama up on the wall) help immerse the audience in the world of the play.

While the production aptly instills a sense of unease and anticipation in the audience, the play does less to make viewers truly feel for the characters. We come to know the characters in their capacity as CIA agents, yet we do not really come to know them as people. The script offers a few glimpses into Josh and Sunny's relationship yet could have delved further into the complexities of their marriage. And at times, Rogers's language feels heavy-handed. For example, when Josh and Sunny have a solo conversation as we arrive at the meat of the play, she tells him, "It's wrong to kill any people, it's wrong to kill anyone in this world!" Such confessions feel overly moralistic.

Fortunately, Williams and Middleton offer performances that help fill in some of the gaps in the script. While Williams appears a bit too clean-cut (his sweatpants with ratty hems designed by Amanda Jenks look a little too intentional) to be the utterly depressed Josh, I did buy into his agony as he wrestled both with returning to his job and seeing his ex-wife for the first time in over a year. And while Shelden's performance as Zach feels very one-note in the first scene of the play, he comes into his own in the later scenes as his character's actions became similarly more intense. Shelden and Maitner as sidekick Ford also contribute some necessary humor into the dark proceedings of the play. Above all, Middleton's truly nuanced performance as Sunny stands out. She lays bare Sunny's conflicting desire to both justify and repent for all that she has done.

"Asymmetric" plays Theater C at 59E59 Theaters through December 6. Tickets are $25. 212-753-5959 x102 or 59e59.org.

Photo Credit: Deborah Alexander


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