THE NIGHT WORD
nytheatre.com review by Anthony Pennino
Edward Cahill's The Night Word is a
difficult show to review. There are many intriguing elements in this
production, but, alas, the whole never succeeds in being greater than
the sum of the parts.
August 15, 2003
The play is set in the hospital room of Francis (Marc Geller), a white homosexual book editor. He was savagely assaulted by Langston (Jason Quinn), a young African American male in financial services. In the script's greatest stretch of credibility, Francis has convinced the judge in the case to have Langston assigned to work for him during his stay in the hospital as a kind of community service. Francis hopes that the two can get to know one another and rise above their differences.
Often the script calls for the two actors to serve as mouthpieces for their particular racial group. Yet, the play's strongest moments are those when the characters shed those roles and are just communicating as individuals. An argument over the novels of Jane Austen crackles with life.
The play's take on race in America is very—excuse the bad pun—black-and-white, and it frequently oversimplifies a very complicated issue. This is a shame because it often feels like the playwright is laying the groundwork to explore that complexity. Francis, though a white man, is gay. Nonetheless, Langston constantly makes note that someone like Francis has "clout". Conversely, it is mentioned that Langston's skin is the color of coffee with cream. Unfortunately, the play does not delve into the possibilities of Francis being disenfranchised because of his gender orientation or of Langston having a white ancestor or two in his family tree.
The staging by director Ken Hanes fluctuates between being too static in some moments and too manic in others; nonetheless, Hanes' character work with the actors is superb. Both Geller and Quinn give masterful performances, with Quinn in particular filling every moment with passion and the spark of truth. The Night Word is a good play in the making. Some trims and another rewrite or two, and this could be a fascinating piece of theatre. Credit should be given to Cahill for tackling this difficult subject; he just needs to dig deeper into his subject matter.