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A CurtainUp Review
What We Don't Confess
By Elyse Sommer
Tony Vellela has a nice feel for moving a story back and forth in time and organizing its parts into well-paced scenes. Director Jay Falzone has given his just opened suspense drama a brisk production that makes good use of the Players' Club tiny stage. Given its genre, however, What We Don't Confess ends up with more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese.
It's not uncommon for a mystery story to scatter false clues here and there, but in order for the mystery to reach a satisfactory conclusion, the logic behind all the clues needs to be clarified. In this play, that never happens. The solution is less designed to make us understand the characters than to leave us with a "gee, you could have fooled me" surprise ending.
Like the surprise Off-Broadway hit R & J (see link) in which one of this play's producer was also involved, Confess revolved around four Catholic school classmates. Instead of Shakespeare's world, we are in New York City from 1988 to 1998, with the earlier time frame feeling more like the 40s or 50s. To tell you what the play is about without without spilling the truth about the crime or its perpetrator:
Thw foursome of this play encompasses the school's student executive committee which meets regularly in the back room of a restaurant where the sexy waitress Loretta (Deana Barone) closes her eyes to the underage drinking regulations. Two of the boys are typical rich private school kids. Miller (Jason Williams) is the child not only of wealth but celebrity. He's the class president and obviously headed for big things in life. Carlo (Joe Pioggia), who's darkly handsome in contrast to Miller's Kevin Bacon type good looks is more low-key and noncommittal (shades of the lawyer he's going to be). Philip (Douglas Dickerman), is the de rigueur would be novelist of any such circle. In the early scenes his role seems to be mainly as a contrast to the pure-minded Ben, a self-declared member of the "fornicating masses." That leaves Ben (Jason Joseph Shlag) as the group's worrier and moral conscience whose religious zeal and looks evoke visions of Judge Starr as a teenager.
Each of the four boys, including nerdy Ben, has a relationship with Loretta who -- surprise, surprise -- is the pivotal figure on the tragedy to which no one confesses -- at least not until the denouement. While the tavern setting of the initial scenes and the broad-minded Loretta who is a friend to all these guys might bring to mind a character from yet another hit play -- Patsy the waitress with the big heart and libido to match in Sideman -- Loretta is clearly not the tough survivor of that drama. It is the how, why and who of the violent act of which she is the victim that's the focus of the first three scenes. The seven subsequent scenes move forward to the present with numerous flashbacks designed to fill in the holes.
The 1998 setting is the small apartment Carlo, now a fast-track lawyer, shares with his dancer-wife Kathleen (Amy Sloane). As the executive committee meetings united the four young men during their Franklin School days, so the committee is now reactivated to plan a class reunion. Ben (apparently still virginal and now working for the Archbishop) and Carlo and Phillip have apparently stayed in touch throughout the ten years since graduation. It turns out that Miller, the class golden boy, has been persona non grata i since family money and connections saved him from being convicted of the crime against Loretta. (Think Ted Kennedy, Stephen Kennedy Smith, Robert Chambers, etc.etc. etc.). Now, that Miller has invited himself into the committee meetings, it's only a matter of time before the real relationships between these men as well as the true circumstances of the crime come to light.
It all plays out well enough to sustain your interest throughout, despite uneven performances (the two women come off best). But only Philip and Miller become fully understandable. For everything and everyone else the Swiss cheese metaphor holds.
R & J