Photo by Aaron Epstein.
BOTTOM LINE: Potentially confusing, but if you’re interested in subtle new work it is worth checking out.
If you go into Gaugleprixtown knowing nothing about the show, you might find it extremely confusing. I heard several men remark to each other afterward “I didn’t understand that at all.” And my partner, seeing the ad for the show in the lobby afterward, said “oh, that explains a lot. I wish I had seen that earlier.”
So while I’m not sure understanding a show should depend on reading press about it, here is the text of the ad. "A True Story. London, 1993. Two 11-year-old boys abduct, torture, and murder a three-year-old, abandoning the body along railroad tracks. The crime becomes instantly legendary. Eight years later, the boys, then men, are released into society, with new identities and a court order never to contact one another again. Inspires an Award Winning Drama. Massachusetts, 2009. Drifting in a rowboat, their chilling past rising to the surface, “Richard” and “Adrian” meet for the first time in 15 years."
Given this, how was the show? Gaugleprixtown is somewhat of a challenge to audiences, which is both good and bad. I liked that I was not hit over the head by the script–even knowing the basic premise of the play, there was a lot that was still vague. Part of this is because Andrew Muir, the playwright, and David F. Chapman, the director, create a somewhat dream-like world in which you are never quite sure what is real and what is make-believe. The characters are both men, but men defined by their childhoods–are they reliving (or even reenacting) their youth, or are they speaking to each other as adults? The two men spend a lot of time telling stories and playing games, and it isn’t always quite clear that this is what they are doing. But sometimes, their playing make-believe seems to become real, as with the appearance of Lucy, the girl they apparently murdered when they were children.
Overall, I think there is a lot of potential here, but I think the script and direction could still be clearer. It seems that Muir and Chapman did not want to make the play too didactic–they did not want to create a simple, realistic play about what happens when the two men meet each other again. They are going for subtlety, which I love. But the material is so subtle it sometimes gets confusing. For example, the play does not show the men greeting each other for the first time after so many years; the play begins with them together in a boat. Unless you have read something about Gaugleprixtown beforehand, you have no idea these men have not seen each other in years, or that they have been forbidden from meeting, or that their identities have been changed, or that they killed a girl when they were kids. It is all hinted at in the script, but it is still hard to be sure who these characters are.
However, while Gaugleprixtown is not a purely realistic drama, it is also not purely surrealistic or absurdist, and I think this uneasy mix of styles is what makes the play suffer. Maybe Muir and Chapman are trying to do too much here–the characters are already complex, and to tell their story through a mix of styles, one in which it is often unclear what is happening, hurts the play. If they had gone even more surrealistic, and let the audience know early on that they were not watching a strictly realistic play (especially since nowadays, that is what theatre audience are used to), I think Gaugleprixtown would be less confusing, but no less interesting.
Gaugleprixtown has some great design elements, most notably the set and lighting. The entire play takes place in a small boat, and the designers manage to create a boat that moves up and down in the water amidst greenery and trees, with light rippling on the water. The sound design also does a lot to evoke the dream-like quality of the piece. The design contributes a lot to this play, and given the small size of the stage and the equally small size of the budget, I think the designers (Martin Andrew–scenic, Peter Hoerburger–lighting, and Sharath Patel–sound) are especially to be commended.
The actors are more uneven. The two men have a difficult job–how does one play a grown man who committed murder when he was a boy? How far below the surface is one’s memory of this crime? How much is one affected by it? Muir has written characters who seem to have been affected differently, but I think Tony Roach as Adrian does a much better job with the complexity of his character. I think part of the reason this play is so potentially confusing is that Richard, as played by Kurt Uy, just does not seem to be someone who has ever committed a gruesome murder, or even someone who has shoplifted. Finally, Devon Berkshire plays Lucy, the girl who was murdered. When she appears, the play definitely shifts in tone, and while I enjoyed her performance (her reenactment of the crime is quite chilling), Berkshire seems to be in a different play that the two men.
All in all, I would recommend this play to audiences who are looking for challenging theatre, those who like subtlety, and those who are tired of being pandered to by theatre that is “easy.” This is not a piece for those looking for a fun night out, or for those who need to understand everything they see the moment they see it. But if you’re willing to risk a little confusion, and enjoy seeing new work, Gaugleprixtown is worth checking out. But I’d suggest reading the program notes before it begins.
(Gaugleprixtown plays at the Kirk Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St., through April 4th. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 3 PM. Tickets are $18, available at 212-279-4200 or online at ticketcentral.com. For more information visit stu42.com.)