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A CurtainUp Review
The Long Shrift
You're going to love this idea of mine. I've got a gap between speakers. You can tell your story to the whole crowd. Seriously. It'll be the greatest reunion in the history of the high school. — Macy
Long Shrift Scott Haze and Ahna O'Reilly (Photo: Joan Marcu)
To better understand the title of Robert Boswell's gripping and unsettling play, you have to consider how reversing the dictionary meaning of the phrase, "getting the short shrift," as it is has been traditionally understood: "The brief interlude given a condemned prisoner to confess and receive absolution before execution." Although Boswell, is more renowned for his seven published novels, The Long Shrift is his second play, and it's a humdinger.

In defense of his oft-explored theme — you unwittingly hurt the one you love — it explores aspects of rape and repentance with uncanny insight and a clear-minded compassion for both the victim and the perpetrator. That it has been cast with excellent actors and directed with imaginative intelligence by the multi-gifted film star James Franco helps to make this a rewarding, if also harrowing, theater experience.

Richard Singer (Scott Haze) is twenty-eight years old at the start of the play. He was accused, convicted and sentence to ten years in prison on a charge of rape just as he was about to graduate from high school. A good student with a bright future ahead of him that included college, Richard's once clear-cut life and trajectory was as abruptly curtailed for him as well for his parents Henry (Brian Lally) and Sarah (Ally Sheedy). They lost their home and used up all their savings for Richard's legal defense.

It is clear that no one is or will ever be the same in this family unit in 2009 in Houston, Texas. The setting is mainly the family's shoddy second home with a brief excursion to the high school podium (effectively designed by Andromache Chalfant), five years after Richard's unexpectedly early release from prison. The appearance of Richard's accuser Beth (Ahna O'Reilly) is just as much of a shock to his father as it is to Richard. That it is bound to resurrect and ignite long pent-up feelings is only the half of it. Just as Beth's life has irrevocably been changed, Richard is also far from being the wholesome, nerdy, love-struck teen with whom Beth did more than flirt.

Notwithstanding Richard's four hellish years in prison, Beth's life has also become a wholesale wreck. She is estranged from her wealthy family and a divorcee. Nevertheless, she has gone to great lengths and considerable expense, not to mention personal humiliation, to go to court to reverse her accusation and to have the conviction rescinded. In her Off-Broadway debut, O'Reilly is excellent, a disquieting mixture of maturity and insecurity. Her agenda is anything but what we might expect, and gives the play its element of surprise.

Baring his tattooed chest, Richard makes it more than clear that he has changed in many ways and forever. He has spent the past four years embroiled in bitterness and harboring feelings of betrayal. Now home following the death of his long-ailing mother, he has no interest or inclination to hear what Beth has to say. He also has no intention of being accessible to his father whose patience Richard finds intolerable.

Just as Beth is fired up with an intense desire to build a healing bridge between them, Richard is consumed with rage and an unwillingness to consider her pleas on any level. Haze, who is also making his Off-Broadway debut, gives a blistering performance as an emotionally and physically damaged young man committed to hardening his increasingly anti-social shell.

If the tension that builds between Richard and Beth is close to terrifying, the atmosphere shifts perceptively in the scenes in which Henry and Sarah express their opposing perspectives on what happened. What works surprisingly well are the dead Sarah's appearances in Henry's dreams, with the help of lighting designer Burke Brown. Both veterans of the stage and screen, Lally and Sheedy are excellent and play expertly off each other.

Also commendable is how cleverly the play shifts gears into the almost comedic with the appearance of Lancaster High's student body president Macy (Allie Gallerani), a blonde ditz. She unwittingly embodies just the kind of naively seductive personality that might understandably serve as a trigger to unacceptable sexual conduct. Gallerani nails the role, validating not only her character's blatant superficiality but also her own talent.

Hardly aware of what can of worms she has opened, it is Macy's self-serving, if not outrageous, mission to have Richard and Beth appear and speak at the reunion. This may not be the most credible of climactic moments but it serves to pave the way for a denouement that has been well considered to bring us at least as far as the crossroads of possibility where Richard and Beth eventually find themselves.

If you are smart enough to get to the Rattlestick located at the crossroads of Waverly and 7th Ave. South, you should take advantage of the cost of the ticket to this fine new play. This has got to be one of the best play deals in town.

The Long Shrift
By Robert Boswell
Directed by James Franco

Cast: Allie Gallerani (Macy), Scott Haze (Richard), Brian Lally (Henry), Ahna O'Reilly (Beth), Ally Sheedy (Sarah)
Scenic Design: Andromache Chalfant
Costume Design: Jessica Pabst
Lighting Design: Burke Brown
Sound Design: Bart Fasbender
Properties Designer: Matthew Frew
Fight Director: UnkleDave's Fight-House
Special Effects Design Consultant: Jeremy Chernick
Production Manager: Eugenia Furneaux
Production Stage Manager: Andrew Slater
Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes no intermission
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place (off Seventh Avenue South)
Tickets: General Admission seating: $20
From 07/07/14 Opened 07/13 Ends 08/23/14
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 07/10/14
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