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A CurtainUp Review
By Jacob Horn
When he abruptly returns, he finds QZ understandably bitter and running the paper, which now consists primarily of personal ads, with the help of Jim's nephew, Matthew (Gideon Glick). The awkward but bright 19-year-old left home after his alcoholic stepfather discovered that he was gay, and working on the paper that is now his livelihood. With so much baggage for the three of them to work out, can they come to terms with the demons of their pasts and find ways to go on living?
Samuel D. Hunter's The Few, directed by Davis McCallum at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, is an ambitious work of storytelling, as it depicts characters simultaneously dealing with tremendous obstacles as well as the mundane (but nonetheless tension-producing) challenges of putting out a newspaper. The sheer number of conflicts risks becoming overwhelming, but the production usually succeeds in balancing the competing sources of drama and providing a raw look at the difficulty of preserving one's humanity in a world filled with alienation and disappointment.
Laurence and Lawrence have more in common beyond the pronunciation of their last names: as Bryan and QZ, the two are incredibly well-matched in their ability to convincingly portray hardened, resolute characters who bring out the best and worst in each other. At times, the stubbornness of the characters becomes a liability, resulting in a few lengthy periods of the two standing in silence, each trying to coax some response out of the other. But it is the chemistry between these performers that generates many of the play's most salient moments.
Glick's Matthew, who's not the silent type, provides a welcome contrast to the intense stoicism of the others. It can feel like Matthew is the least developed character in the play — his incredible level of investment in the newspaper seems a bit perplexing — but this is usually just because he's a confused teenager, unsure of his place in the world and what he wants out of life, an essence that Glick captures well.
The laudable set design by Dane Laffrey makes tremendous use of Rattlestick's intimate space, creating an evocative environment aided by the work of lighting designer Eric Southern, properties master Andrew Diaz, music designer Daniel Kluger, and costume designer Jessica Pabst. While the entire set is packed, everything helps to elicit a crystal clear sense of place.
Another useful device for understanding the characters and their community is the message line where readers of the newspaper call to request personal ads. These messages often serve as well-executed comic relief ("Me: over sixty. You: under forty. Let's ride!"), but they can also offer contrasts that shed light on the situations of the characters in the play. Given how some of the callers are surprisingly candid with details about their lives and interests, too, it's hard not to notice how difficult it is for the three on the paper's end of the line to communicate with one another.
This is certainly true to the characters, but it can be frustrating to see them carrying so many burdens that aren't discussed. Some doors are opened only halfway; Matthew's struggles with his identity, for example, seem under-explored, especially in contrast to the occasional instances where the drama over the newspaper itself feels more central than necessary.
Small gripes aside, though, there's a lot of interesting drama in The Few, and the production is well done. The world Hunter creates is filled with harsh realities and disappointments, which the play's characters are bent on overcoming. Watching them try to do so isn't always easy, but it's certainly compelling.