nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 4, 2008
The Framer is the last play that will be presented in the Michael Weller Theatre. After more than a decade, this space on West 43rd Street is closing its doors, another victim of the shifting real estate market in New York City. It's a shame: our town needs intimate theatre venues like the Weller to provide an affordable and comfortable home to the adventurous and provocative fare that indie theaters like Broken Watch Theatre Company generally produce.
So I'm particularly disheartened to have to report that The Framer, written by Edward Allan Baker, is a disappointment; one would have liked to see this space enjoy a more glorious send-off than this poorly written melodrama can muster.
The story centers around Patsy, a woman approaching middle age with a plethora of family difficulties. Her husband, Ronnie, is dying of cirrhosis of the liver. Her years with Ronnie have been disappointing, but she's stuck it out, hoping he will someday indicate that he loves her, or at least that he will teach her how to become a picture framer, which is his trade.
Meanwhile, Patsy's brother, Falcon, is struggling to cope with the sexual abuse of his daughter. His brother-in-law Joe has been arrested for this crime, and tomorrow he goes to trial. But today, Falcon is being encouraged by a cop to shoot Joe, which he thinks may assuage his own feelings of cowardice and guilt. (It's not exactly clear why the cop is so eager to see Joe dead; Baker simply alludes to a very corrupt police force here without explaining anything.)
We also meet Lorraine, Falcon's wife; she is a waitress who recites today's specials to herself when she wants to shut the world out. Lorraine wants Falcon to drop the charges against Joe, because she believes that her sister (Joe's wife) will not be able to cope if her husband goes to jail.
All of this plot unfolds in several exposition-heavy scenes that make The Framer feel more like a daytime soap opera than a proper play. Eventually Falcon gets the idea that Ronnie should kill Joe—Ronnie, after all, has only six months left to live, and therefore much less to lose if he turns murderer. But a series of plot twists in Act Two prevent Ronnie from doing anything so dramatic; unfortunately, they also prevent Patsy and Ronnie from actually experiencing any kind of authentic dramatic arc, so that while they are the leading characters, nothing ultimately happens to them in the course of the play (though Baker supplies an unconvincing reconciliation for the final moments).
The writing feels alarmingly sloppy throughout, particularly given Baker's lengthy resume. In just about every scene, a character stares up at the wall of framed photos in Ronnie's shop and gives a speech like this one:
Look at all these normal people here—people who despise you, people who would never, never ever think in their minds the kind of stuff you think in your mind. Good people.
(This particular example is said by the cop to Joe, late in the play.) Baker seems to rely on a vairety of playwriting ticks that make the piece feel hackneyed, such as a laundry list of grievances that becomes a would-be revelatory speech for most of the characters in the story.
Under Kevin Confoy's direction, the six actors mostly make the best of what they've been given to work with. Craig Bockhorn and Matt Walton fare the best as Ronnie and Falcon (respectively); their scene together at the beginning of Act Two, in which Falcon tries to persuade Ronnie to become his hit man, is the most entertaining and convincing one in the piece. Suzanne DiDonna works hard as Patsy, but she's saddled with a role that makes little sense. Lori Garrabrant is unconvincing as the presumably at-her-wit's-end Lorraine. Dared Wright as the cop and David Fraioli as Joe complete the cast.
It's a shame to see the Weller Theatre go out with a whimper rather than a bang. Let's hope that Broken Watch can find a new home soon, and suitably worthy material to perform there.