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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Release Point

I’m used to walk around school like I was in a fog. Like I was living in some kind of a dream and one day someone would pull the blanket off and say “none of this is real.” But it is real. It’s the fog I live in. And you want Mikey to have more fun? More fun? Do you know what he did when you went away? He stopped talking. He shut up for two years. Two years he said nothing to no one. Not to me, not to mom, not to his therapists. He would go to school, do his work, come home, shut himself up in his room and that was it. He didn’t cry, he didn’t laugh, he shut up like he didn’t exist anymore. Just like me, we were both trying to disappear into nothing. — Kerry

Release Point
Michael Irvin Pollard and Jenny Vallancourt
(Photo: SuzAnne Barabas)
A fragile, guarded relationship between a daughter and her father is explored and tentatively resolved in the gripping, but also problematic new play by Gino DiIorio now having its world premiere at the New Jersey Repertory Theater. It takes place on a wooded hillside overlooking a baseball field in New Jersey (impressively evoked by designer Jessica Parks), where 22 year-old Kerry (Jenny Vallancourt) has arranged a secret meeting with her father Mike (Michael Irvin Pollard). He's a former high school coach who was convicted as a serial sexual predator and has recently been released after serving a nine-year sentence in prison.

As grimly timely and topical as it is in the face of recent headlines, Release Point was apparently inspired by a true incident that prompted DiIorio to “come to grips with it.” Although a third, but important, character is introduced late in the play, this is basically a two-hander, convincingly acted and compellingly directed by Joel Stone. Over the course of this ninety minute play, we are asked to qualify the abhorrent behavior of an unlikable, irredeemably unapologetic sociopath and how he and his crimes impacted the lives of family members.

The family has somehow withstood the stigma of remaining in their home town where Mike has also returned to live on the outskirts. Mike has responded to Jenny’s plea to him to help her younger brother, now a high-school senior, with the potential of being a world-class pitcher. Scouts from various colleges have come to watch him play. Mike’s help, however, must come indirectly, through the coaching advice and techniques he imparts to Kerry, who not only loves the game but plays (softball) on her college team. Some of the action involves Mike and Kerry catching and throwing balls and giving those of us who might care, some useful tips.

Restrained by a court order that requires him to stay 500 feet from the school and the field, Mike watches the baseball games from the crest through binoculars, carefully noting the ways that he can improve his son’s pitching. The talented boy, who responded to his father’s crimes by becoming mute for two years, is not seen, nor is he aware of his father’s presence. He does, however, become the catalyst that forces Kerry to confront her father with long-festering questions.

Despite the barely contained rage and revulsion that fuels Kerry’s feelings for a father who betrayed his family and left them emotionally and psychologically scarred, she is willing to let her father’s coaching skills serve as means to an end — but what are the means to an end for Mike as he is suddenly challenged by Kerry to provide explanations for his behavior? It is only when Mike is suddenly and dramatically manipulated to reveal himself to himself through an epiphany of sorts and by acknowledging the “monster” within that the play seems to fall victim to the moral issues that are being pursued.

Pollard, a NJ Rep. regular, is excellent as the uneasily defensive and foolishly reckless Mike who is willing to risk his freedom to watch his son pitch the final big game from the stands. As Kerry, Vallancourt gives a skillfully honed performance that builds steadily and peaks as she probes for answers that may only add more scars to her psychic wounds. Laura DiIorio may have only a short time on stage but in the small role of Kayla, a teenager attempting to retrieve a ball, we share her growing uncertainty and eventual fear.

Although there are credibility issues that arise within the plot, one also feels that the principal characters are deserving of more back stories to add deeper dimensions not only to them but to the central conflict. What cannot be faulted is the play’s ability to keep us thoroughly invested. Release Point, which was given a staged reading at the Berkshire Playwrights Lab this past July at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, Massachusetts, is the kind of provocative play calculated to generate conversation even if its sad, fact-based subject matter cannot help but be regrettably and essentially distasteful.

Release Point
By Gino DiIorio
Directed by Joel Stone

Cast: Michael Irvin Pollard (Mike), Jenny Vallancourt (Kerry), Gillian Andersen, Felicia Aschettino, Emily Capriotti, Laura DiIorio, Tina Siciliano, Isabel Wallace (alternating as Kayla)
Scenic Design & Properties: Jessica Parks
Lighting Design: Jill Nagle
Costume Design: Patricia E.Doherty
Sound Design: John Emmett O’Brien
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes no intermission
New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, New Jersey
(732) 229 – 3166
Tickets $40.00
Performances: Thursday – Friday 8 PM; Saturday 3 PM & 8 PM, Sunday at 2 PM.
From 08/16/12 Opened 08/18/12 Ends 09/23/12
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 08/18/12
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