nytheatre.com review by Hieu Tran
August 15, 2004
James Christy, Jr.’s play Never Tell, directed by James Christy, Sr., is a noble, sprawling attempt to examine and expose the darker underpinnings and motivations of five New Yorkers. The play is an ensemble drama set around two events: art dealer Will’s (Kevin Kane) decision to exhibit a video art installation documenting a rape, and his best friend Manny’s (Justin Swain) development of a computer program with revolutionary business potential.
Throughout the play each of the main characters has a chance to speak in a confessional-like manner about their first sexual experience, either real or, in one richly comic case, imagined. The confessionals serve as notices to the audience: either as indirect indicators of a character’s personality traits, or as painful histories, accounting for a character’s current psychological state. To be honest, however, the most interesting recollections were the least traumatic ones: Hoover’s (Josh Weinstein) imaginary meeting with Bob Marley, resulting in a hard-on, and Will’s year-long bus ride home with a girl three years his senior, building to a day when she gives him a hand job. These stories perfectly illustrate, in a surreally insidious manner, the types of guys they have turned out to be: Will, a confident man who believes he has the right to act out however he pleases, and Hoover, a wildly imaginative, benignly manipulative fellow who sees no shame in visiting a girl he has just met and telling her, in the most psychologically engrossing and creative scene in the play, that they are meant to be together. In fact, Weinstein’s Hoover is the most intriguing character in this play, balancing his unabashed dorkiness with a charming wit and, many might say, an undeserved confidence.
As the two characters with enormous pain in their pasts, both Courtney Munch and Swain (as Liz and Manny, respectively) play with enough skill and heart to make us care for them, but their traumatic oratories fell short of registering any genuine sense of empathy or outrage in me. The emotional weight of the story suffers, and toward the end of the play the promising dramatic set-up slips too easily into melodrama. That being said, it is still clear that Christy, Jr. is a talented playwright with a strong dramatic voice and broad ambitions. His father also directs the play with an easy-going flow and smooth scene transitions. (Pay especial attention to set designer Sarah Pearline’s use of three mobile, boldly decorated panels to indicate effortless scene changes, from offices to homes to an art gallery. It is a marvelous piece of set design.)