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A CurtainUp Review
The action begins, appropriately enough, in a college classroom with Professor Whitey McCoy (Jonathan Hogan) musing over abstruse tenets of philosophy with his undergraduates. He poses questions such as "What is the value of value?" and "Who are we, and what is important to us?" Xavier "Ex" Reynolds (Charlie Hewson), a student who is clearly more concerned about passing his final exam than trying to fathom pre-Socratic philosophy, interrupts with a more concrete question: "Is this going to be on the test?"
So much for philosophy. As for the test, there will be more than one over the course of the evening, most conspicuously the examination of Professor McCoy's moral character, which, in turn, has the college itself being judged for how it responds to a sexual harassment charge against a faculty member.
In his non-linear play Sherman offers us a first act with a pair of scene in which the professor and student re-enact the incident as they individually remember it. Sherman doesn't try to connect the dots for our imagination, but lets the case take on a kind of sophistic argument in our minds: What did really happen at Whitey's apartment late one night during Thanksgiving break? Who seduced who? And was sex actually part of the evening, or not?
Strangely, the sexual scandal gets dramatically downplayed after the early scenes. The author shifts the center of the play to the four undergraduates, who spring to life in dissolute detail. The students may be upset over Whitey's dismissal by college president Quintana Matheson (Ellen Dolan), but they are obviously more preoccupied with their own personal relationships, getting high on drugs or booze—and, oh yeah!—- graduating from college. Only Robin (Natalie Knepp), the school reporter and later valedictorian, occasionally voices her concerns about the professor's fate.
Sophistry is at its best when it focuses on the three male friends, Willy (Maximillian Osinski), Igor (Ian Alda), and Ex (Charlie Hewson). Whether they are strumming guitars, trying to pick-up young women, or break-up with them, their language and antics evoke the real atmosphere of the laid-back college life of the '90s. We see J. Crew jackets (with enough pockets for a six-pack of beer), hear music from Red Hot Chili Peppers, and learn that if one's inspiration runs dry, term papers can be bought. Whitey's return in Act 2 — after the suit has been "settled" with more revelations about himself and his current status— raises the question of whether a play can be too earnest in its closing scene? Perhaps. In a return to the original premise of the play, the case of Jack v. Whitey, via the valedictorian's commencement speech about one's intergrity and "not settling" in life, Sherman seems to be using her as a stand-in for his own point of view.
All things considered this new production from South Ark Stage is not new enough to escape being dated. Still, director James Warwick gets high marks for coherently gathering the loose ends and black holes in the drama and the energetic actors rate an A plus.