nytheatre.com review by Maggie Cino
In a futuristic world where people are
always being watched, the problem of black/white race relations has been
solved. The dreaded N-word (loud whisper: "nigger") has been erased from
the collective memory, but can still be unearthed by teenagers with
chips on their shoulders looking to cause trouble. This is the world of
Andrew Rosendorf’s new play, The Authorities.
August 15, 2003
The piece is well crafted, but while the characters and the world they live in are clear enough, the stakes are not. Maxwell, the teenager in question, uses the forbidden word "nigger" and refuses to apologize, even at the risk of family disgrace and getting his own tongue cut out. But his refusal to recant feels like nothing more than adolescent pique. It is never clear what he has to gain by not apologizing. Another case of low stakes is the surreptitious love affair between Maxwell and the daughter of the principal of his school. Why two well-placed adolescents from affluent families with no known blemishes can’t conduct a romance out in the open is a mystery. Yes, they are having sex, which is severely controlled and perverted under the Authorities, but haven’t teenagers always kept their sex lives a secret? Since we never know exactly what the rules regarding sex are in this world, there is no thrill in watching the characters break them.
The one character whose objectives are clear in the play is Maxwell’s mother, Mildred Kirkpatrick, played with high-strung edginess by Maggie Kettering. Mildred is on the verge of receiving an award and she might not get it if her son refuses to cooperate. Her desire for that award and her willingness to do whatever she can to make sure she gets it are palpable. In the role, Kettering goes after what she wants with a passion.
In the end, The Authorities hangs together, commanding our attention for the whole hour-and-a-half. And the dystopian theme of the play is chilling enough, certainly kindling my desire to find out what to do to avoid a real-life future like the one foretold by this play.