nytheatre.com review by James Comtois
July 16, 2008
Daniel Gallant writes, directs, and stars as the eponymous Gerald in Gerald's Method, an intriguing yet slightly frustrating one-act about characters using acting to get to the heart of reality. It's intriguing because Gallant brings a lot of good and fascinating ideas to the table in entertaining ways, and it's frustrating because many of these ideas wind up being hamstrung by the plot.
Reid and Cynthia, two students at a small liberal arts college, enter their acting master class, taught by a once renowned Broadway actor who apparently ended his acting career in disgrace. They are the only students to show up that day, because a fellow student was just found brutally murdered on campus and the whole school is in shock. In fact, their teacher Gerald is surprised that they bothered to show up at all. (In truth, since it turns out Cynthia's the one who found the student's body, we are, too, but I suppose we'll never mind that.)
Rather than talk about the dead classmate, Reid wants to know why Gerald's acting career went belly-up. And rather than cancel class, Gerald decides to have his two students participate in an improvisational role-playing exercise where they act out Gerald's sordid past, as well as what might have happened to their dead classmate.
Gerald gives Reid and Cynthia the barest nuts and bolts information about how Gerald and his now-estranged wife met, got together, and broke up. The two acting students, through imagination and intuition, fill in the blanks. This is the meat of the story: you're learning about Gerald's life (sort of) and, eventually, their classmate's death through Reid and Cynthia's hypothesizing.
Through this role-playing of Gerald's past, Gallant insightfully shows the disparity between reality and drama; about the raw materials given in life and the creative process used to mold said materials into a cohesive narrative. For example, at one point, Reid and Cynthia role-play the break-up (completely guessing and improvising as to how it happened, based on the bare bones facts of the situation). After the scene, Gerald compliments them on fine scene work, but points out that in reality, the scene didn't play out nearly as dramatically: there was no swearing or yelling at one another. In fact, there really was no fight.
Another interesting aspect is that, because actors bring their own proverbial baggage to the table when performing, you learn about the acting students' back-stories through their role-playing, which of course upsets Gerald (he complains that there are too many stories going on at once, muddying up the narrative).
In terms of how the play's plot hamstrings itself, I won't give away how the student's death ties in with this (auto)biographical role-playing, except to say that I found how this fact and the method in which it is presented to be a substantial strain on my suspension of disbelief. Ultimately, I wasn't sold on a) how Gerald receives the information he's been given, b) that he'd relay said information to his students, and c) how the students react to said information. It seems...for lack of a better word...false, especially in contrast to the earlier portions of the play.
But then again, this is a play and not real life, right?