Apollinaire Stages Poignant ‘FROM WHITE PLAINS’ (4.5 Stars)
by Claudia Foxtree
From White Plains – By Michael Perlman; Directed by Danielle Fauteux Jacques; Set & Costumes Design by Maria Kapustina; Presented by the Apollinaire Theatre Company at Chelsea Theatre Works, 189 Winnisimmet St., Chelsea, MA. Through December 14th.
Imagine having a puzzle called “Relationships,” but the pieces about your four years in high school are missing. In fact, you have deliberately not included them in your puzzle box of life because you don’t want to share them with people who will become part of your future relationships. However, the holes are still there because high school has influenced who you have become, even when you wish it didn’t. ‘From White Plains’ lets viewers into a private relationship between two pairs of friends, one gay and the other straight, who suddenly have the missing puzzle pieces thrust upon them in a very public way. Each set of friends now needs to explain, deal with, and respond to a part of the past that they thought was over and done with – bullying.
Chelsea Theatre Works hosts the Apollinaire Theatre Company’s presentation of ‘From White Plains’ by Michael Perlman under the direction of Danielle Fauteux Jacques. Intense and poignant dialogue is the hallmark of this show. Through their conversations, the characters tell us about how one high school experience has latched on, or not latched on, and now that memory, or non memory, has made all the difference in their adult lives. The dialogue may appear to be simple, but what it relays is complex. Dennis (Brooks Reeves) has just won an Oscar for his film, From White Plains, which is about the death of his high school friend. A number of years ago, Mitchell was bullied and, ultimately, he found only one recourse, to commit suicide. Mr. Reeves captures the intensity of the bullying experience and its lingering effects from pain to vengeance, until his anger literally is about to “ruin his life.” Gregory (Diego Buscaglia) is his companion, who faces his own demons, having stayed in the closet for his entire life. They are best friends and lovers, but something has always kept them apart. Dennis has not, and cannot, reveal his experience of high school bullying, wedgies, and face-in-toilet dunks, even to the person he loves. However, he is able to describe the high school life of his gay friend, Mitchell, and has done it through a very public ‘documentary’ that names the bully – Ethan Rice.
Ethan (Steven DeMarco) and John (Mauro Canepa) are also best friends. Ethan can’t seem to remember much of high school. He recalls that he was a joker and a jerk to “everyone,” but believes it was just to make people laugh. Now that Ethan has been publically named as Mitchell’s tormentor, his life is not the same. He begins to experience repeated harassment, a hallmark of bullying, which has moved into present day with all the modern electronics available, including the cell phone, iPad, computer, and websites such as imdb and Facebook. Is his harassment, and subsequent loss of his job and friends, as bad as what happened to Mitchell or any other nameless victim of bullying? This play begs this question and more.
I kept wondering, “How could someone not self reflect enough to know that they are being mean, and even offensive?” Mr. Canepa plays John, Ethan’s buddy, and even he has a limit to how much “gay this” and “fag that” he can tolerate from his best friend. John has developed some empathy and sensitivity because he has a brother who is gay. Even with gentle nudges by John to do the right thing, Ethan cannot seem to pick up on the insults he is wielding. This must be what it is like in “real life” for a bully; a kind of blindness to even accepting help for behaviors which nowadays are obviously not tolerated in a society which has legalized gay marriage and forced schools to adopt anti-bullying programs. Bully and its devastating consequences are a hot topic these days, and the Apollinaire Theater Company shows firsthand how it affects multiple lives in their outstanding production of ‘From White Plains’.
Mr. DeMarco’s character of Ethan demonstrates the most change from mindless idiot who has no idea of the impact of his words and actions, to remorseful soul-searching man who wonders if he is a killer. However, Mr. Reeves holds a close second as his character Dennis allows anger to consume him. As grown men, one has never had to think of his actions and the other has never forgotten them. Each loses their innocence about a safe and just world, one as a boy and the other as a man. I found these juxtapositions fascinating. They felt so real, so honest, and gave me insight into what it is like for a private experience to be held out for public display. I wondered if folks in the audience might be tearing up with their own memories of a harsh high school experience.
This drama is a study in human behavior. I could see myself coming to ‘From White Plains’ repeatedly and leaving with a different memorable line each time. This time the line would be “Holding on to the past can be a detriment to your current life.” Another time, it could be, I can’t let go of the past because “the past is holding on to me.” One of the deepest pieces I took away is that when you are bullied, you never forget it, and can’t let it go. When you are the perpetrator, quite possibly, you don’t know what you did, why you did it, and why it was so awful. The suspense of whether there will be another suicide, wondering if the two couples will remain friends, and questions as to how Dennis will make peace or get even kept me emotionally involved in their story. Again, this play begs important questions, will you let your past define you or will your present be your reality?
The intimate black box theater with its high ceiling is ‘open seating,’ so get there a little early. The one hour and forty minute show has no intermission, so be prepared to sit right through this worthwhile drama. A trip to the rest room will also take you behind the theater into its other interesting rooms and hollows. I recommend staying for the reception with the actors that follows every show, if you like talk-backs and that sort of thing, which I do. I enjoyed talking with Mr. Buscaglia and viewing the gallery area that is displaying a series of artsy photographs related to the topic of the play.
I love local theater which is like a “diamond in the rough” that I get to discover, however, this “small town show” has already has garnered big time awards. It was the winner of the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Off-Off-Broadway Production and has been nominated for three New York Innovative Theatre Awards. FROM WHITE PLAINS is a fabulous, thoughtful show at a small admission price. The theater is located only five miles from Boston, with plenty of street parking in the downtown Chelsea area, just off the Tobin Bridge and route 93. Keep in mind that due to the nature of this show and its subtext, it’s not recommended for children. For more info, please go to: http://www.apollinairetheatre.com/