BOTTOM LINE: A faithful, adept adaptation of John Knowles' classic coming-of-age novel.
Anyone who has read A Separate Peace will instantly recognize the shadow of the fateful tree projected on the screen up-stage. Brian Foyster, who adapts and performs this one-man show, jumps right into the action of the story, recounting the first time charismatic Phineas baits the narrator, Gene, into taking the dangerous leap off the school tree into the river. This tree becomes the symbolic crux of this touching, evocative tragedy.
Foyster, who retains a boyish look, is convincing as a middle-aged man recounting his prep school days at Devon. He gives a capable and physical performance, capturing introspective Gene and his athletic best friend/worst enemy, Phineas (Finny) by turns. Set in the summer of 1942 against the shadow of World War II, the summer session at Devon represents the last carefree, peaceful time in these young men's lives…but Gene is fighting a private, imaginary war of his own. Desperately jealous of Finny's charm and physical prowess, Gene comes to believe Finny is trying to sabotage him in the only area he excels; academics. Foyster neatly picks scenes from Knowles' novel that best capture Finny's warm, winning personality and Gene's growing animosity and paranoia. This one-side rivalry reaches its peak when Gene realizes there could never be any real competition between them because Gene "was not of the same quality as [Finny]." In his anger, Gene jolts the branch of the tree as the two are about to make a double leap causing Finny to fall and shatter his leg…and the disastrous consequences of this vengeful impulse defines the lives of both boys.
Foyster's narrative transitions are fluid and he conveys Knowles' larger themes very well, but he can't quite capture the vibrant energy of the schoolboy action that contrasts so well with the heavier emotions. Still, Foyster has managed to distill a funny and moving work from the novel. Grant Wilcoxen's lighting, heavily featuring haunting blue light, effectively sets the mood for this story of regret and friendship.
This isn't the fringe-iest Fringe show you could see but it is a well-constructed piece that does justice to the source material. Fans of the book should enjoy it and people who haven't been spoiled by the novel may enjoy it even more.
(A Separate Peace plays at The Connelly Theater, 220 East 4th Street, through August 28th. Remaining performances are Wednesday 8/25 at 2pm, Friday 8/27 at 4:45pm, and Saturday 8/28 at 2:30pm (talkback after final show). For more information visit aseparatepeace.info. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door, and are available at FringeNYC.com, by calling 866.468.7619, or in person at FringeCENTRAL, located at 1 East 8th Street at 5th Avenue. There is NO LATE SEATING for Fringe NYC shows.)