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A CurtainUp Review
Days of Rage

"I mean, the long and the short of it is, we're trying to prepare for what we think is going to be basically a revolutionary situation in America in the next year." — Spence to Peggy, adding "We're done with protests. We've had enough candlelight vigils and sit-ins and meditating at the Pentagon. What has that accomplished??"
Lauren Patten and Mike Faist star in Steven Levenson's Days of Rage, directed by Trip Cullman, at Second Stage Theatre. (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Twenty scenes in ninety minutes to spend time with a group of young revolutionaries fed up with a government that got us into a never ending war. Wow!

A round of applause to Trip Cullman for zipping us through all those scenes— some so talky that they seem longer, some more tense and dramatic. A scene near the end even dishes up a surprise twist and the foretelling, epilogue-like finale actually does blend past and present.

Another round of handclapping for Louisa Thompson whose scenic work I've admired ever since I saw sic in 2001. Her depressingly grungy house in the Upstate New York college town where Days of Rage unfolds makes it easy to sense that a happy ending is unlikely for the residents of that ramshackle house.

I wish I could keep applauding. After all, this eventful script is by Steven Levenson who wrote the book for the hit musical Dear Evan Hansen. Last year's timely family drama If I Forget added to my high expectations for Days of Rage. Unfortunately my expectations were pretty much dashed.

Levenson's obvious intent is obvious: to use the backdrop of the volatile and often violent protests groups of the Vietnam War years to the present, when the revolutionary instincts rare once again stirred up because, to quote New York Times columnist Paul Krugman "the guardrail of our democracy has been weakened." Somehow, however, the play's thus enraged young activists are so emotionally messed up, foolish, rigid and incompetent that it's hard to take them seriously. This sends the play see-sawing between satire and seriousness. At times the characters come off a bit like the very people currently fueling their rage.

The would be revolutionaries consist of trio. They're running their own collective according to the principles of Marx and Engels. The month of October 1969 that we spend with them begins not too long after Woodstock and My Lai, and the final scene comes six and a half years before that devastating war finally end.

The action revolves around the group's efforts to recruit students to participate in the three-day antiwar protest planned for Chicago by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). With two of the collective's members having taken off for Michigan (with their car), it's up to the three remaining members to do the recruiting, publicizing and organizing —, not to mention deal with the money problems.

Those remaining members, all of whom the script has given moments to shine, are Spence (Mike Faist, Dear Evan Hansen's Connor), Jenny (Lauren Patten) and Quinn (Odessa Young). Jenny and Spence are both college dropouts and were a couple at their middle class Connecticut high school. True to the anti-capital doctrine they've bought into monogamy is out and sharing includes non-exclusive sex. Not that this doesn't affect Jenny and Quinn's relationship and ratchet up the sense of this really being a satire of this revolutionary enterprise.

Levenson complicates the collective's mission and personal relationships with two other characters. Neither is a student at the college.

Hal (Alphonse Nicholson), is a young African-American who works for Sears and is assigned by his boss to make Jenny take her leaflet distributing set-up away from Sears property. As someone who gets along with his parents, and supported his young brother's enlistment to fight in Vietnam, he's no revolutionary. Yet, he likes Jenny and she him. Her relationship with him marks the beginning of the changes she undergoes

Peggy (Tavi Gevinson), is a more aggressively, disruptive other outsider. She no sooner arrives,in town than she latches onto the group and with a her gift of $2000 and promise of more financial support, persuades them to let her move in with them.

The plot thickens and the collective takes on the aura of the gang that couldn't shoot straight. The only one involved in this doomed to fail enterprise who really changes is Jenny.

All this chaos as smoothly directed by Mr. Cullman is intermittently entertaining. But being neither all-out, super sharp satire or a truly provocative political drama, the classy staging makes Days of Rage a little bit like someone who comes to a lunch date in a coffee shop dressed for a ball.

Earlier plays by Steven Levenson that we've liked and reviewed:
The Language of Trees
Core Values
The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Dugan

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Days of Rage by of Steven Levenson
Directed By Trip Cullman
Cast: Mike Faist (Spence), Tavi Gevinson (Peggy), J. Alphonse Nicholson (Hal), Odessa Young (Quinn)
Scenic design by Louisa Thompson
costume design by Paloma Young
lighting design by Tyler Micoleau
Production Stage Manager: Samantha Watson
Stage Manager: Kyle Largent
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Second Stage at the Tony Kiser Theater 305 West 43rd Street
From 10/09/18; opening 10/30/18; closing 11/25/18
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on November 2nd

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