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The Beautiful Dark
Jacob (Daniel Pellicano) is eighteen, bright, with a gift for creative writing. He has, however, returned to his home in the Midwest after being expelled from college before completing his freshman year. It is the soon-to-be-unearthed reason for his expulsion that will become the issue at stake.
Well acted and tautly directed by John Wooten, The Beautiful Dark is as filled with acts of physical tumult as it is with the various characters' states of emotional turmoil. In retreat from professional and parental guidance, Jacob gives us plenty to think about in the shadow of the Virginia Tech tragedy.
It isn't that Jacob's mother Nancy (Dana Benningfield), a high school principal, is blind or oblivious to Jacob's inability to be receptive to help. A few years ago he attempted suicide and for a while was in therapy. Jacob has self-assessed this as "not working" and has since stopped taking his medication.
Although a recovering alcoholic, Nancy is an intelligent woman, dedicated in her profession, and a conscientiously attentive mother to Jacob and to his thirteen-year-old brother Charlie (Logan Riley Bruner). In the light of Jacob's volatile swings between being either incorrigible or uncommunicative, Nancy attempts to deal with him alone when her husband Tom (Steven Rishard), the local police chief, throws in the towel and moves out. In a tough and complexly defined role, Benningfield gives a stunning performance. Rishard is also sturdy and believable as the bewildered Tom who sees glimmers of his younger self in his son.
Credit goes to director Wooten for ramping up the tension with the expectancy of violence. But the play is also filled with the ever present possibility of Jacob retreating into the dark place in his mind and where some fine writing has been known to emerge. There is no indication or insinuation in the plot that the relationship between Nancy and Tom was marked by abuse of any kind. Although in one powerful scene Tom lets us see that he was not one to condone insolence or disrespect.
Nancy is left to confront a terrible situation that she may or may not be able to handle at home. There's another storm brewing at school when she confronts Mr. Marsh (Mitch Greenberg) a respected teacher with a disturbing discovery. She also recalls that it was Marsh who was instrumental in nurturing Jacob's talent for writing.
Are there clues in Jacob's stories that can lead us back to the cause of Jacob's psychotic states? There are a couple of scenes in which Jacob, excellently acted by Pellicano, stands alone in the darkness reciting revelatory passages from his stories.
At school, Nancy is visited by Sydney (a fine performance by Cara Ganski), a young woman who claims to have been Jacob's girl friend until she says she read the play that he wrote, the contents of which are so upsetting that she brings it to the attention of the college administrators. Jacob's blisteringly belligerent reaction to everything Nancy says builds incrementally finally erupting with him trashing their home.
We will assume that set designer excellent living room setting will stand up to the abuse over the course of the run. However in complete denial, Jacob is not the only one to have reached the breaking point. Meanwhile, material evidence begins to show up to suggest that a very real and present danger may exist.
A co-production with the Kean Department of Theatre, The Beautiful Dark addresses the issues of responsibility and when to assume control and take action with convincing clarity and puts them into a compelling dramatic context.
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