Theater and Concert Reviews.
by ROBERT MASSIMI about a year ago in REVIEW Too Much, Too Little Robert Massimi.
Public Servant at The Clurman on Theater Row is produced by Theater Breaking Through Barriers. TBTB was formed in 1979 and is dedicated to advancing work of writers, directors, performers, designers, technicians and administrators with disabilities. In its 40th year, TBTB began as a Theater by the blind. It then mixed the blind with low vision and sighted artists as a mix in the company's works.
In 2008 the company mixed all artists with different disabilities and as such, changed its name to Theater Breaking Through Barriers. The company's mission is to claim full inclusion of people with disabilities in our society.
Public Servant started off really well, good set design by Edward T. Morris, very good lighting by Alejandro Fajardo, and fine props as well. The story is about a man who is a public official in a small town in North Carolina. The time is the present and Ed (Chris Henry Coffey) is a politician who wants to go along to get along. He is a man of moral conviction and he likes his tasks, the job and for the most part, his life. He has a loving relationship with his daughter, Hannah (Anna Lentz).
Playwright Bekah Brunstetter, who wrote The Cake, tries once again to bring politics and American history into Public Servant. The play is a place in time on many subjects and that's where the problem lies after the first fifty minutes. Rather than put a plot line out there and expand on it, Brunstetter is slow to bring this play forward. Once the play gets its footing, it spirals in many non relevant issues.
What could be a suspenseful, good show turned out to be fair at best. Hannah is back from college and she is a wide eyed, "let's save the world" kind of liberal. She makes very broad brushed strokes at society but no relevant sticking points. Ed is amused at her naivete but talks to her as a young adult nevertheless.
The third character in this play is Miriam (Christine Bruno). She wants answers about a highway going through her dead mother's house and Ed tries to pass her off and brush the problem under the rug. This is where both confrontation and symmetry begin. The play has a father, mother, a wife and a husband. A woman who desperately wants a child and one who is carrying a child.
Brunstetter could have done so much with this story, but unlike The Cake, it falls very short. Geordie Broadwater the Director didn't help matters either. The play languishes in slowness, a dead beat rather than a bounce to it. Miriam could have been more of a back beat to this play, but instead, Coffey is the standout in this play. Lentz also holds her own but there is only so much the actors can do with this script.
Politics aside in this play, we never feel the people's problems nor their anxiety in the performance. There are some serious issues that the three deal with and the audience never really feels the panic nor hostilities that should be in this play. Instead of talking about immigration or native Americans, Brunstetter should have stuck to the issues of these three characters as there was a lot to deal with in their lives. A play that is a little over an hour and a half has to have a start, a quick plot line, and a finish. Instead Brunstetter has us wading in the middle of a lake not taking us in any meaningful direction. Public Servant makes no relevant points about anything in particular, and the play leads to nowhere ville.
In its weak direction, Hannah seems too aloof when it comes to her problem, a major problem. She is more interested in the country's problems than her own. After all, Hannah has a bi- polar mother, she has like ability issues, yet she gives off the air of not caring what people think of her. Even though she has a young insecurity complex, the director has her as steadfast in her beliefs and in her own little world.
Miriam too has a conflicting role. She is strong when it comes to her mom's house and she is weak with everything else. Unable to bear a child, she rails against her husband, but in a whinny, insecure way. Her strength against Ed and the government should have been put forth in her life; her determination should have been the very fabric of this play.
Public Servant is an average play with some good performers. The writing and direction could have been a lot better, however. If streamlined, rewritten without the fluffy politics, this show could be much better. In a comfortable theater like the Clurman, this kind of play would have worked magnificently if only the words were true.
Clurman Theater, off Broadway, Christine Bruno,Public Servant,.