nytheatre.com review by Robert Attenweiler
August 16, 2009
Apparently, not even dying can get the cops off your tail. In Savage International, a new play by Manny Liyes, two of the afterlife's police force tail a serial killer and his new lover all the way from Saturn to the New York City of 2037, seeking justice and looking to settle a painful personal score.
At the play's start, the two cops, Chester Shaft (David King), who still remembers the celebration that followed the Mets' 1986 World Series title, and Ronnie Caan (played by the playwright), age 13—which he will remain in perpetuity—look for "her" and reference a dangerous "him" and admit to being watched and ordered by a "them." We also learn that they are both dead—Shaft for 42 years, Caan for 44—and their targets are dead as well. The play then flashes back to 2030 and moves to Saturn (essentially, Hell) where we see Summer (Jamie Neumann) coming to terms with her newly-deceased status. Death is, as you might imagine, an awful lot to process, but Summer settles in. Through her neighbor, Peggy (Meg Cheng), she meets Sam (Will Manning). Summer and Sam fall in love and eventually run away together. But it turns out that Sam was a serial killer when he was alive and Shaft and Caan have some questions for him. And, with that, Liyes's self-proclaimed "sci-fi western" is off and running.
Unfortunately, for much of it, the play seems to be running in place. Unlike with film, where we can see shots of how their world is different from our world—details we can process quickly while the story develops—Savage International has only its words to set its imagined landscape for us. What about this world is the same? What is different? Liyes seems caught between explaining the rules of his world and moving his story forward, so what the audience gets are bits of information here and there, the effect of which is confusing, not suspenseful.
Still, the cast is committed and likable. Will Manning is especially good as the serial killer, Sam, consistently landing the killer's eerie, off-putting detachment.