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A CurtainUp Review
I'd like to go on the record as saying how frustrating it is that on a "day to day" basis I am inundated with non-requested information by all the supervising adult in my life but when it comes to things I'd like I'd like you to speak with me about, all I get is silence.—Thomas
Tobias Segal in Stain
Tobias Segal in Stain
"It's so easy with them, you can end up with a lot of them," Arthur (Jim O'Connor) says, explaining the character of "ecto-plasm girls" to his son Thomas in Tony Glazer's Stain. "You can get used to being with them 'cause they're always around. But if you fuck too many of those they'll leave a mark on you — they'll leave a stain."

That's the kind of advice Thomas (Tobias Segal) gets from his father, sitting in the park on their Sunday afternoons together, inaugurated after his mother moved back in with her widowed mother. At home (Eddy Trotter's set cleverly opens and shuts for alternating scenes) with his mother, Julia (Summer Crockett Moore) and grandmother, Theresa (Joanna Bayless), women are treated with a great deal more respect — until his former girlfriend, Carla (Karina Arroyave), a Hispanic lawyer seventeen years his senior, comes to his house unannounced and informs everyone that she is pregnant.

It is a complicated situation. Although Thomas had lied about his age and Carla terminated the relationship when she learned how young he was, she has technically "assaulted" a minor. For some reason, she still believes she is entitled to child support when Thomas reaches maturity — even though she does not want him to have any role in their child's life.

But the real story is not so much about Thomas the father as Thomas the son. For some strange reason, neither his mother nor his father will explain the events leading up to their divorce, no matter how much he pleads and threatens — and he does a lot of that. So the play is something of a slowly unraveling mystery. However, Glazer is so heavy-handed and his hints so obvious, any experienced theatergoer will have second-guessed the playwright long before the bombshell is dropped. This, however, is not Stain's major problem.

When the mystery is finally solved, the truth is so awful that it does not sit at all well with the comic tone of the play and may leave many people wondering what exactly they have been laughing at. If this were truly black comedy it might work, but Stain is neither satiric nor a comment on the absurd nature of existence. It's merely inconsistent and self-indulgent.

Glazer, who has ample experience writing and performing in sketch and stand-up comedy, has a definite flair for dialogue, especially the comedic. What he doesn't do so well is create characters who relate well to what's happening in the play. It's almost as if he thought of a plot and then filled it in with people, some of whom — like Thomas's friend George (Peter Brensinger)— could easily have been eliminated; as his scenes with Thomas add nothing to the play and aren't particularly funny.

Director Scott C. Embler might have provided a restraining influence. Instead he dutifully follows Glazer's most outrageous inclinations, leaving gaping holes in the believability of the show. The biggest one is the simple fact that it's quite obvious no one in her right mind would believe the callow, goofy Thomas is anything but an adolescent.

Segal, who was recently nominated for a Drama League and Drama Desk award for his performance in Manhattan Theatre Club's From Up Here, is certainly a fine actor, but he is totally misdirected here. If nothing else, Embler might have seen to it that Segal didn't end every sentence with a question mark — something one hopes youngsters give up after they hit twenty.

Arroyave is either a pretty awful actress or was totally miscast for the role. Hopefully, it's the latter. At any rate, instead of coming off as a capable, mature but mislead adult, she seems whiny, selfish and stupid, something which one doubts the author intended.

The two most engaging characters are Thomas's obnoxious father, whose open racism and sexism are refreshingly and hilariously not politically correct; and his grandmother, a feisty lady who takes Botox injections and does funny things to herself in the shower. Kudos to O'Connor and Bayless.

With all its faults, Stain does have many enjoyable moments that even the blatantly unsatisfying ending does not destroy. Too bad it doesn't hold together as either comedy or serious drama.

By Tony Glazer
Directed by Scott C. Embler
Cast: Karina Arroyave (Carla), Joanna Bayless (Theresa), Peter Brensinger (George), Summer Crockett Moore (Julia), Jim O'Connor (Arthur), Tobias Segal (Thomas)
Scenic Designer: Eddy Trotter
Costume Designer: Cully Long
Lighting Designer: Nick Kolin
Sound Designer & Original Music Composer: Andrew Eisele
Running Time: 2 hours with one 10-minute intermission
The Kirk at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street
From 7/11/08; opening 7/23/08; closing 8/23/08
Sunday and Monday at 7pm, Wednesday — Saturday at 8pm, Saturday matinee at 2pm Tickets: $35 (212) 279-4200
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons July 19, 2008
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