The tiny Fault Line Theatre company is finishing up a run of a new play directed and co-written by Michael Perlman, “From White Plains,” at the Signature Theatre’s new performance space in West 42nd Street. I saw it last night and thought it was stunning. I think the run lasts through this Saturday, and I encourage people to see it.
The cast – Craig Wesley Divino, Karl Gregory, Jimmy King and Aaron Rossini – are credited as co-authors with Perlman because the play evolved during rehearsals with creative contributions from all the characters, who seem to have a deep emotional investment in the production, to judge from the “talk back” with the audience after last night’s performance.
The plot – A successful documentary maker who wins the Oscar for his film about the high school bullying of his youth mentions the name of the most prominent bully during his acceptance speech, broadcast internationally to hundreds of millions of viewer, among them the bully and his best friend from college. The bully, Ethan, who was unaware that one of the victims of his bullying had subsequently committed suicide, is at first in denial, then stunned, then emotionally torn up as he and the filmmaker, Dennis, enter into a facebook posting controversy that escalates. Can such a bully ever make an effective apology? Can one of his victims provide forgiveness, when another victim is dead? And how do these revelations affect the relationships of each man, including the bully’s college chum and the filmmaker’s closeted boyfriend?
The scenario is played out with brilliantly naturalistic dialogue, and a very efficient staging that moves the plot along quickly. I found myself totally absorbed through the 100 minutes (no intermission) show. This play begs for numerous school productions. I can’t imagine that it would not be a powerful educational tool for combating bullying and providing emotional help for its victims. As the author indicated during the talkback, this takes things a step beyond the “It Gets Better” project on youtube. Although it gets better, it is still going on, as news reports continue to inform us with new suicides and lawsuits against school districts, and news of school boards continuing to resist the formation of student Gay Straight Alliances or classroom discussions about human sexuality that are constrained by policies against “promoting homosexuality.”