FEAR at the Lucille Lortel Theatre

Enrico Colantoni, Alexander Garfin, Obi Abili

 

 

By Ron Fassler

 

If a play is presented to the theatergoing public as a thriller it has to offer a thrill or two. And as a personal fan of the genre, I live in hope of the comeback it richly deserves. Broadway hasn’t given us a successful one since Ira Levin’s Deathtrap forty-one years ago (which is a long time to wait). One of my ten-best lifetime theatergoing experiences was the original production of Anthony Shaffer’s Tony Award winning Best Play Sleuth in 1970, which I saw as a teenager. Even after nearly half a century, I have never forgotten its effect on me which was that of a roller-coaster ride, with the ups and downs of its cat and mouse game keeping me nervously on the edge of my seat. But Fear, at a mere length of seventy minutes, misses the twists and turns necessary to jack up the stakes, ultimately making me feel unaffected by most of what transpired.

 

 

I can’t really fault the actors or the director, since the script metaphorically tied their hands behind their backs. On stage, one of the three actors actually had his hands tied behind his back for much of the play, and again—I never felt he was in anything less than a contrived jeopardy. The plot concerns a missing girl in a local New Jersey community, and the lead character of Phil (Enrico Colantoni), a hot-under-the-collar blue-collar self-described vigilante, who is only too happy to lead a search party. Things kick off promisingly with his having captured the fifteen-year-old Jamie (Alexander Garfin), suspiciously hanging about the woods where the girl was last seen. Then after a brief interrogation which yields nothing, one of Phil’s neighbors Ethan (Obi Abili), a bespectacled Princeton University professor stumbles upon them in the abandoned shack where the play takes place. This sets the scene for the difference between Ethan and Phil; the former educated at the best schools, and the latter, whose learning is by way of the school of life. And with poor Jamie stuck in the middle, and not really granted all that much to say for the play’s short-spanned seventy minutes running time, it does not allow for a terribly interesting battle of wits. The only mystery to me is that the play is being billed as thriller, as not only does the tension fizzle out completely over whether the captive will be found dead or not, but the young boy doesn’t convey any sense of danger to himself or to his would-be captors. Depriving that character of a whip-smart intellect, leaves him ill-equipped to referee the two adult characters. He just sits in a chair tied up, which is insufficiently dramatic to say the least.

Putting three people on stage of different backgrounds and socio-economic class also isn’t enough to guarantee the kind of fraught-filled tension playwright Matt Williams and director Tea Alagic are hoping for here. I suppose a town’s plumber, a tenured professor and an anxious and insecure kid might have been the sorts of characters to provide proper tension for another play, but not in one where the dialogue and plotting lack the force to convey anything close to genuine terror. Sadly, this misnamed Fear doesn’t create near the suspense to warrant its title.

Photos: Jeremy Daniel

 

Fear is at the Lucile Lortel Theatre at 121 Christopher (between Hudson and Bleecker Street) now through December 8th.

www.feartheplay.com

 

 

 

 

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