The Other Side of Darkness
nytheatre.com review by Terri Galvin
August 11, 2007
Anyone who's suffered through my reviews should have no doubt that I really like words—lots and lots of gorgeous words, clustered into luscious chunks of cinematic imagery, evoking all sorts of seemingly inexpressible passions.
So, trust me, it's not the profusion of words in The Other Side of Darkness that utterly exhausted and frustrated me. Phil Geoffrey Bond's lyrical passages, richly detailed descriptions, and elaborate, minute explanations of how each character is feeling at any given moment must be very satisfying for an author to hear recited nightly during a FringeNYC run. Regrettably, not much of it makes for very compelling drama.
Stephen and Lillian Manners are a desperately miserable couple who can't seem to stop torturing themselves or each other. And before we can say "George and Martha," their best friend, Jay, the compulsory preternaturally witty-and-fabulous gay male, says it for us. This is just one blatant example of the many things never left unsaid in this ponderous, overwrought play.
Stephen, a brilliant and once-celebrated playwright has skidded into an alcoholic torpor, unable to write, and predictably festering with resentment against himself and his movie-star wife who, equally self- and mutually loathing, is at a crossroads regarding her career and the fate of the couple's dangerously obese daughter. Her agent, long-time friend Jay, wants two things: for Lillian to accept her latest film offer and for Stephen to return to his (Jay's) bed. Obviously, there's a whole lotta history going on here.
To his credit, Bond has created three intensely conflicted characters enmeshed in an excruciatingly internecine triangle—one positively teeming with dramatic possibilities. But between the narcotizing account of a dying stray cat, a rhapsody on the anesthetizing virtues of alcohol, and the countless opinings on suffering and art, it all felt like so much quicksand to me.
The second act, a flashback to how the couple met, is less verbose but still manages to strain both credulity and patience. When Stephen, allegedly the newly crowned king of New York theatre, resorts to a baby-talking sock puppet (!) to comfort the suicidal Lillian, I actually started to long for Act I's avowals on life's cruel banalities.
Perhaps Bond fell into that familiar trap of writers who direct their own work; without another perspective, it's easy to lose the objectivity which forces cuts and revisions during rehearsals. The result here is that the initial facts of the play are infinitely reiterated as characters declaim, ruminate, and spout vaguely Chekhovian observations on the nature of existential anguish—all intoned in lofty, weighty pronouncements or self-consciously internalized mumbles.
Unfortunately, the script is not rescued by brilliant performances. The putatively corrosive couple exhibits a disconcerting absence of chemistry, making it tough not to eye-roll when they repeatedly assert their love/hate for each other. Granted, the script is dense, but given the relationship, one would expect these actors to brandish their lines like stilettos.
By contrast, the vibrant, ruefully humorous Rob Maitner as Jay brings a distinctive spark of complexity to a character that might otherwise be perceived as clichéd and, lately, obligatory. He mines a depth and self-awareness from Jay's opportunism and romantic disappointment that I'm not sure even exists in the text, and it was he who came closest to redeeming my shaken faith in Bond's glorious abundance of words.