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|A CurtainUp Review
Splatter Pattern (or, How I Got Away With It)
There's certainly no shortage of noir-ish twists in Neil Bell's new play, Spatter Pattern, being given its world premiere at Playwrights Horizons' 99-seat theater. The sensational, unsolved murder and the intersecting lives of two troubled strangers in a city (New York) full of lost souls, remind one of novelist Paul Auster's mysterious New York Trilogy. This resemblance is underscored by the smart dissonance of Michael Greif's direction and Mark Wendland's constantly changing but consistently joyless interior and exterior scenery. Yet, unlike Auster, who tends not to bother to make sense of the clues he spatters around, Bell does connect the dots between his characters' high tension random meetings and conversations. The murder mystery may not be wrapped up in a neat package, but by the time the play ends, the emotional patterns that shape the two focal characters, Edward Dunn and Marcus Tate, are clearer.
If you've seen Peter Frechette, you won't be disappointed in his Dunn -- a man who's been trying to come to grips with being alone after a twenty-three-year long relationship ended with his partner David's death from lung cancer. He displays his usual knack for being funny even as he is obviously crushed by sorrow. A scene in which Dunn finally collects David's remains or "cremains" is a particularly telling example of Frechette's sad-funny persona, as well as the play's overall sense of black-tinted humor. Those "cremains" also provide Dunn with a powerful monologue and pull the play out of the lag that sets in about two-thirds of the way through a plot that has heretofore arced as fast as a propeller.
Darren Pettie as Tate convincingly has us teetering between thinking it possible or impossible that he killed a student who threatens to expose the manufactured war stories with which he regales his classes in order to grab their attention. While there are only two other actors in the cast, the stage is filled with enough characters to be a reasonable facsimile of a teeming metropolis. Deidre O'Connell and John Lavelle bring them all to vivid life.
O'Connell is especially good as Duff's tough-as nails agent but also hits the mark as the student who, after confronting Duff about his classroom lies tells a friend how she got away with it (this is just one of that title tag line's several loaded meanings). Lavelle shines as a detective determined to nail Duff. The two multiple role players riotously team up as the managers of the establishment where Dunn goes to collect his lovers' ashes. These and other portraits help to create the pattern that brings Dunn and Tate to the same dead-end fork in their life's path -- a fork which leads them to join forces as a means dealing with the losses fate has sent their way.
The use of a few panels to achieve constant scene shifts is ingenious though somewhat too frenetic and self-consciously theatrical. Eventually, all the hyper-active blackouts contribute to the already mentioned bump in the dramatic pace when some of what's said begins to sound repetitious and you're ready to decide who's guilty of what. But then there's Frechette's closing monologue, so irresistibly poignant that he gets away with it being a bit syrupy, as Spatter Pattern gets away with being a very human story as well as an entertaining stage noir.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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