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A CurtainUp Review
Because the realism of Deliverance cannot be duplicated on a small stage, Tyler's translation based on James Dickey's novel depends on audience imagination. It's success owes much credit to production values, a skilled cast and the masterly direction of Joe Tantalo. Tantalo manipulates the four men and three supporting actors like dancers, using physical movements as props to portray rifles, bow and arrow, paddling the canoes, hitting the rapids and falling into the churning water.
The plot is simple. The macho, take-charge Lewis (Gregory Konow), challenges three friends to join him on a white river canoe trip down the unpredictable Cahulawassee River in Georgia. The river, scheduled to become a lake, offers one of few opportunities left for a man to prove his machismo. The white water is menacing and when Lewis says, "Survival is the name of the game," these guys can't resist the challenge. They include Ed, wiry and savvy, played by Nick Paglino, Jarrod Zayas as the more timid, Bobby whose sports activity comes from the TV screen and Drew, the brightest of the bunch, played by Sean Tant.
The four set out, brimming with bravado. Only three will return, Lewis with a badly broken leg and Bobby emotionally damaged after being raped by one of the mountain men (Bryce Hodgson). Drew dies on the river and Ed shoots one of the mountain men. Other supporting players are convincingly played by Jason Bragg Stanley and Eddie Dunn
There is some ambiguity in the plot. Was Drew killed on the river by a hillbilly stalking them or did he fall into the rapids? When Ed shoots a mountain man, was it actually the stalker or someone walking on the cliff? The characters never find out, and neither do we.
Sean Tyler adaptation enhances the reality of unexplainable violence at any time. Tantalo keeps the movement graceful even as the actors on the stage are traumatized in this journey to discover one's ability to survive the worst. You have to wonder how you might deal in such a violent situation and you are reminded of the broadening separation between civilization and nature.
The story is staged and lighted by Maruti Evans in a foreboding small dark theater space with the shiny square in the center symbolizing the water and later a cliff. The incoming audience sees a man standing on that square, staring into the blackness. Ushers warn visitors not to step on the square as they find their seats, not that you'll get wet, but it sparks the imagination. The ambiance is captivating with dramatic lighting and sudden primeval sound effects by Ian DeNio. On target costumes by Orli Nativ dress the city boys as if they geared up at Banana Republic unlike the mountain men in jeans, flannel shirts and wide-brimmed hats
After the film was released, just the title, Deliverance, became a chilling image of terror. It is worth seeing how this creative small stage version actualizes the same affect with imagination alone. Deliverance marks the 20th Anniversary of Drama Desk Award-winning Godlight Theatre Company, praised for previous stage translations of literary works like A Clockwork Orange and Fahrenheit 451. It's sure to delivery many more praises.
Postscript: In case the play whets your appetite to see the film version, here's a link to it on You Tube: Deliverance the movie