BWW Review: ACT's Stirring ALEX & ARIS Relies Too Much on Advance Knowledge
There are certain shows out there that, while being engaging and performed well, make you feel like you're missing something. Many of the plays of Tom Stoppard are that way for me in that, unless you've taken a master class on that particular subject matter, you may not get the full impact. The World Premiere of Moby Pomerance's "Alex & Aris", currently playing at ACT, falls into this category. Stirring performances and crisp dialog but unless you've taken the prerequisite class on Greek history you may fall behind.
The play is somewhat a hypothetical as not much is written on the tutelage of Alexander the Great (Chip Sherman), before he was so Great, by the philosopher Aristotle (Darragh Kennan) and their subsequent relationship. But Pomerance's speculations attempt to uncover how Aristotle's teachings may have influenced the future ruler and his need for conquest.
The dialog of the piece drives forward like a bullet train and is quite dense. Sometimes too dense as this is not a play you can let wash over you. You MUST pay attention to every word. Plus, unless you've studied the histories of these two men (or at least the historical insert in the program) you may miss a thing or two. And these two elements are my biggest complaints of the piece. Historical dramas should educate as well as entertain and not expect heaps of foreknowledge. That's not to say this isn't an engaging show. The characters created are fascinating and director John Langs keeps the pace barreling along but as we barrel I got the feeling the author was saying, "You know about this part of their history, right? No? OK great, moving on!"
What holds any kind of engagement together, however, are the commanding performances of these two actors. Kennan, shows off how his presence and prowess as an actor has continued to get better and better over the years and turns in a performance with crystal clear intention. The stakes are high for his Aristotle every minute and that comes across. And I must say I hope we get to see much more of Sherman around town in the future. This is a young man with tons of focus and affability making you want to listen to every word he says. Watching the two of them spar on stage was a treat as we got to see the experienced veteran at the top of his game up against the newcomer with oodles of raw talent whom you can see will only keep getting better and better.
So as dense as the piece may be, I still recommend catching it for these two powerhouse performers. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give ACT's "Alex & Aris" an engaged yet slightly lost YAY-. If you feel the need to over explain the back story of your characters outside the confines of the play, then the play isn't completely doing its job.
"Alex & Aris" performs at ACT through August 6th. For tickets or information contact the ACT box office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at www.acttheatre.org.