nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 27, 2006
The most intriguing character in James Christy's play Never Tell—the one I was most curious to know more about—is a guy named Will. He's the curator of an art gallery, married to a bank executive whose corporate contacts supply him with patrons and buyers. At the moment he's exhibiting a controversial installation (created by an anonymous artist) that includes a video depicting a brutal rape, a disturbing but presumably staged scene that straddles the line between art and pornography. Will's wife Anne is revolted but supportive; but Will is fascinated by the piece itself and delighted by the notoriety that it's bringing him.
The most appealing and likable character in the play is an extroverted slacker named Hoover. He's portrayed in this production by the eminently talented Mark Setlock, who basically steals the show right out from under his co-stars in a performance of great charm and charisma. Hoover pops into the lives of everyone else in this story, wreaking a kind of anarchic havoc along the way. Or does he?
The protagonist—I think—is yet another fellow, Manny, who is desperately trying to turn his stagnated life around. Once seriously involved with Liz (Anne's best friend), he has been alone for eight years following a painful breakup the reason for which is never clearly explained. He works for a big corporation, and while tooling around on the job he comes up on a brilliant programming breakthrough (again, not quite clearly explained) that could be worth a fortune. Hoover, who sits at the desk next to his, wants to help Manny develop the idea, but Manny takes it to his boss instead. Will he able to finally achieve the success and happiness that have heretofore eluded him?
Never Tell concurrently tells these three compelling stories, and therein lies its drawback: just one would be better. For both the enigmatic Will and the hapless schlemiel Manny I craved back stories—who are these guys, and how did they get to these places in their lives? What made Manny's world derail and where did the inspiration come from that will perhaps put it back on track? Why is Will becomingly increasingly obsessed with the twin demons of fame and rape? And what's Will and Manny's true relationship with one another?—they're presented as longtime close friends, but we don't know their history, their commonalities, their shared truths and lies.
I suspect that Never Tell might work better if directed in a different style. In Will's grasping up-and-comer tale and in Manny and Hoover's archetypal office world I felt hints of post-modern satire from playwright Christy, but they're never realized by the director, Drew DeCorleto. And Manny's computer program discovery and its subsequent martialing through the corporate hierarchy seemed almost to come from a sci-fi/cyberpunk ethos—yet we don't find that supported in the staging either. DeCorleto instead lets the whole show play out entirely naturalistically, even parts that sort of defy common sense. The eerie mystic qualities of the script are unserved.
In the end, despite the collective contributions of a whole bunch of creative people (including set designer J. Wiese and composer Drew Sarich, who serve the piece quite well, and video artist Jito Lee, who does not), Never Tell is finally confusing and unfocused. Too much essential information has been withheld by Christy or DeCorleto or both to keep us fully engaged. And the characters—with the important exception of Setlock's Hoover—are all sketched too tautly and unpleasantly to allow us to get close to any of them.
There's no question that Christy can tell a good story. He needs to pick just one next time around, and really tell it, and find collaborators who are simpatico with a quirky vision that I think deserves a clearer exposure than what it's been given here.