By Eric J. Grimm
Playwright David Ryan Colbert takes on the complexity of identity and truth in his new play, C.O.A.L.. (Confessions of a Liar), now playing at 59E59. Director Craig Baldwin’s production is breezy and confident and boasts a talented cast, including Colbert. Colbert’s script, however, is not as enigmatic and layered as
it wants to be, especially given its snappy and enticing introduction.
Four performers play the narrator, Coal, a person of supposedly ambiguous racial and gender identity, though the play mostly hints at Coal being a white male. The man (Colbert), woman (Lisa Bostnar), girl (Mirirai Sithole), and boy (Jackson Tanner), who make up Coal’s fractured mind and body, begin by asserting that he or she is a born liar and suggest that the story about to be told may or may not be true. This should be a fun proposition, but Coal’s story, restricted to what appears to be his boyhood in a small West Virginia town, is neither interesting nor ambiguous.
It’s marked by his unpleasant interactions with the adults in his life: a cruel teacher, two unstable parents, and an all-too-friendly coach. Coal’s traumatic life events are too familiar and nonchalantly conveyed to be shocking. Colbert might have had more fun with the character by putting him or her in more exciting and bizarre predicaments and seeing how far he could stretch both truth and lies.
Even with the script’s shortcomings, the cast is fun to watch. I wish they had had more opportunities to play characters outside of their age range, gender, and ethnicity, though the few instances in which they do stand out. Sithole is the best of the Coals; she’s jaded and charismatic in the way you might expect of a cynical liar. Bostnar is afforded the only chance to play across gender lines and she’s heartbreaking as a boy pleading with Cole to tell the truth. A cast like this needs more adventurous material.
C.O.A.L. (Confessions of a Liar) is playing at 59E59 through March 22. For tickets, visit https://www.59e59.org
Photos: Carol Rosegg