Theatre: Cherry Lane Theatre
Stan Denman and Steven Pounders in The Unseen.
BOTTOM LINE: An interesting story performed quite well. For those who enjoy a dark tale about two very human guys.
Craig Wright is best known for his work as an Emmy-winning writer of tv dramas like "Six Feet Under" and "Brothers and Sisters," although he is also a notable playwright. Wright is a pro at creating realistic characters in extreme circumstances; they're not always likable, but they're always believable. These people are flawed because they are human. In Wright's The Unseen, now playing off-Broadway after runs in Dallas and at the Humana Festival in Louisville, he introduces the audience to two men trapped in a nondescript prison for unclear reasons.
Wallace and Valdez are jail neighbors with only one cell in between. They talk to each other all day for the company and also to keep their minds sharp. They don't know why they are imprisoned and no one will give them any information, although they've been in jail for 9 years. Still, they are hopeful they will get out soon. The play never reveals where they are, although their guard, Smash, appears to be American. So Wallace and Valdez spend their days in seclusion, save for the communication with each other, and the occasional trip to the torture room where Smash beats the crap out of them for undisclosed reasons.
The Unseen is really a study of a person's resiliance under extreme conditions. With Wallace and Valdez we see incredible perserverance even when it doesn't seem they'll ever be rescued. With Smash, we see how his job as an abusive thug wears on his conscience. And since the play gives little detail about these men and little back-story about why they are imprisoned, all the audience really knows is how these three characters cope...how they adjust to their struggle when the situation becomes more dire.
With intensely intimate portrayals, Thomas Ward (Smash), Steven Pounders (Wallace) and Stan Denman (Valdez) shed light on these guys at a personal level. The fact that we don't have any preconceived knowledge about their characters provides a blank slate on which to observe their present situation. And Wright's script is delicately written. The dialogue is funny at times, but the severity of the reality is never forgotten. The Unseen provides an intense 90 intermissionless minutes.
If the subject matter intrigues you, check out The Unseen while you still can (it closes on Sunday, March 29th). It's a little unsatisfying to be completely unaware of the details though, and as a result the stakes don't seem quite as high...I must admit I wasn't as grabbed as I wanted to be by the intensity of the plight. But Wright is an incredible playwright, and these characters are written with a realistic and human touch. It's an interesting character study to see how they deal with their circumstances.
(The Unseen plays at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street off 7th Avenue, through March 29th. Show times are Tuesday through Sunday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $46 and are available at telecharge.com. For more show info visit unseentheplay.com.)