Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Shameless"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark


By Zayd Dohrn
Directed by Robert Saxner

Lighting Design by Evan Vorono
Publicity Director Rachel DeWoskin
House Manager Mary Ann Cassella
Stage Manager Nicole Bourgoin

Anna.............Anastasia Barnes
Robbie......................Jill Weisz
Jack................Robert Najarian
Steve......................Gabe Field
Colin.....................Bryan Dean
Saul........................Ted Arcidi
Rosa...............Trudi Goodman
Maria.......Rochelle Fuentes Te

Like many new plays, "Shameless" by Zayd Dohrn is a series of short, pithy scenes that might be more comfortable as a film; and also like many new plays, there's no obvious curtain-line ending the first act. But UNLIKE many new plays, "Shameless" steadily builds more and more intimate portraits of each of its many characters through laconic but carefully polished, realistic dialogue; every sentence has a weight and resonance that allows a spine of subtext to make the play's powerful comments --- as though these people say more about themselves in what they do NOT say. As directed by Robert Saxner, the Red Friday Production features a fearless cast doing engrossing ensemble work on a minimally decorated set. This is a memorable play, and I apologise for being so late with this review.

The first two scenes feature Anastasia Barnes' Anna auditioning for a play; the last is a pointed monologue from that play. In between, Zayd Dorn's spare script introduces new characters, and situations that illustrate their lives and outlooks toward life. The third scene introduces Steve (Gabe Field) --- Anna's unmarried partner --- and Steve's buddy from work Jack (Robert Najarian) who bond over beers while Jack checks for chicks and marvels that his friend has been faithful to Anna for the two years she's lived with him. Jack lives from conquest to conquest (the faster the better) and judges the world by himself: i.e., he insists on fixing him up --- actually handing on a flower as yet unplucked in his hareem.

She is Maria (Rochelle Fuentes Te), the 23-year-old daughter of the cleaning-lady (Trudi Goodman) who's worked for fifteen years for Jack's Father (Ted Arcidi). In something like scene six this widowed pair is shown cautiously, slowly, edging toward intimacy --- or dinner and conversation at least.

The basic conflict here is between the two male life-styles: Jack's breezy surface against Steve's attempts to keep something of his relationships private. In a neatly turned exchange Jack insists "We're friends --- not just work-friends --- real friends. Right?" That "Right" is, in a single syllable, a plea and a challenge. When Steve accepts his prodding and "cheats" on Anna, Jack demands all the details and hearing he scored on the first date comments "God, women are shameless these days, aren't they?" --- but he's a bit more pleased than astonished.

One of the truths about these young people is that they apparently use sex to keep themselves from intimacy. (When Steve asks Maria not to have dates --- or at least, not to sleep --- with anyone else, her reaction is "Let's not complicate things, let's just go to bed, all right?") And, occasionally, it can be a weapon. When Jack makes a play for Anna, is he simply aiming at a target of opportunity? Is he, knowing the couple has had difficulty expressing their feelings physically, doing a frustrated Anna a favor? Or is he seeking revenge for Steve's slight at work, when he got mad at having to protect his own privacy? In Dohrn's text, all three are possible, and the cast's fine playing all three may indeed be true!

The script involves all but two of the principals in action that explores varied approaches to sex and love in the young and also in the old, but there are two that simply swell the scene. Bryan Dean plays Colin, a third beer-drinker who is merely a slower and perhaps dumber sexual predator than his friend Jack. Jill Weisz, however, plays Anna's friend and acting-coach --- she's a professional dramaturg --- who may be the only uncomplicated, supportive, sexually uninvolved character in the entire play.

The play ends with Anna's monologue, playing someone she naively describes as "someone who gives up drugs for love"; her description of that high that heroin gives as an "only reality" but the degradations the single-minded pursuit of it produces, caps this no-compromise examination of contemporary mores. For these people, sex is a similar "only reality" but a glacially unforgiving addiction.

Zayd Dohrn has had a screenplay optioned. I hope he can steal time now and again from an addiction to cinema to write more plays as good as "Shameless" for the stage.


"Shameless" (10 - 25 May)
40 Boylston Street, BOSTON MA
1(617) 320-5917

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide