From White Plains
Who Kitchen Theatre Company
Where 417 W. State St., Ithaca, NY
When Through November 10th
Review by Miriam Taylor
The script took center stage, Saturday, at Ithaca’s Kitchen Theatre Company's opening of From White Plains.
The play, at once an echo to the morality tales of the medieval age as well as a novel look at how bullying is implemented in the 21st century, is much more than the sum of its parts. Born from necessity, Michael Perlmen, the director and playwright, was approached by Fault Line Theatre to direct a new play. However when Fault Line was unable to pick up the ones they liked, Perlmen decided to write one himself. The play is one of the most refreshing and genuine productions ever seen on the stage.
When the writer is the director, sometimes little things can easily go amiss. But at other times, sheer brilliance shines through. From White Plains is set in New York in 2013; 15 years have passed since Ethan (played by Aaron Rossini) and Dennis (played by the talented Karl Gregory) went to high school together in White Plains. Ethan filled the role of typical high school bully while Dennis and his high school friend Mitchell Cole, both gay, were the bullied.
In present day, Dennis has just won an Academy Award for his movie detailing his high school life and the tragic suicide of Mitchell Cole. In his acceptance speech he drops the name of his high school bully, Ethan Rice, and all hell breaks loose. An immediate battle royal from Youtube page to Youtube page occurs ,and what ensues is the heartbreaking and complex collapse of a man. We see Ethan's struggle to learn to live with who he was and who he is now.
We also see how the events of one’s youth can affect the future drastically. How sometimes things happen that are too hard to let go. The result is that these memories creep into every aspect of one’s daily life and rip apart one’s relationships.
We also get a close up view of those relationships, how hard friendship can be when you love someone but maybe, sometimes, don’t like them very much.
From the onset of the production the actors dismissed their own lives and became their characters, a feat which must have been made easier when the director admits writing the play with these particular actors in mind.
It shows. Not for a second do you believe they are anything but Dennis, Greg, Ethan, and John. And not for a second do you not recognize these men. Each one can so easily be assigned to a person in your own life: a friend, a boyfriend or a brother. And this is the magic of Perlman’s script. He has broken the fourth wall in the most eloquent way; not by announcing it is there, but instead by inviting you in.
Their struggles are your struggles, their triumphs are your triumphs, their windmills are your giants. And since these men are pitted against each other, you at times are split in your emotions. Dennis’s boyfriend Greg (played by Jimmy King) at one point asks during a fight, “Can’t you see my point of view?” And Dennis, so caught up in the hurt of his own past, heartbreakingly admits that he can’t. And therein lies the most believable moment in the play, the most human moment.
Ethan’s best friend John (played by Craig Wesley Divino) has a similar moment with Ethan where he struggles to see past Ethan’s homophobia and admittedly has a hard time doing so. Again this is where Perlman’s script shines brightest, the moments of weakness, the moments when his characters are not being the best they can be.
Props must be given to the entire creative team as well, because the minimalist set design, careful lighting, and perfectly timed sound effects accentuated the writing and the acting. The technical design enhances the performances, it does not deter.
From White Plains commands your attention from start to finish and leaves you with a grappling conscience and a desire for a better world. But also with the belief that the world can be better; which is one of the joys of seeing true art.