by David Lally · October 18, 2014
The Believers, the new play at the Storm Theatre, has a title with a double meaning. The play, based on the inner workings of political campaigns in New York City, is partly based on playwright Robert Carroll’s experiences working for candidates and elected officials in New York City. It asks the question: what do you believe and what would you do for that belief?
On the eve of the New York City Democratic Primary, Chris Connor, a brilliant young campaign manager, is getting slammed by dirty tricks from the opposition and faces these questions. The play deals with Chris and his team wrestling over whether to release damaging material about the other candidate. Since the play is set hours before the polls open, you are led to believe that this will be a thrilling race-against-time political thriller over beliefs and morals.
Unfortunately, the play suffers from inertia. There is really nothing that goes on here other than the argument of will he or won’t he. Playwright Carroll certainly gives the scenes an authentic feel of what a political headquarters is like but he has spent so much time getting the details right that he forgot about raising the stakes in the plot.
The central argument is not compelling enough to hold our interest for two hours and since each character keeps arguing the same point over and over without any change in their position, it becomes very one note. They don’t register as real people so much as just a mouthpiece for an opposing viewpoint. Even when the plot twist happens (which I won’t divulge because it is the one part of the show that I didn’t see coming and gives the play its double meaning), the characters around Chris change their position but it doesn’t matter because then the story changes and the argument of whether to release the material is null and void. It is up to Chris to decide whether to cross the ethical line. The other characters really don’t have as much of a stake in the central argument and therefore it doesn’t really matter what they think, other than to serve as the angel and the devil on Chris’ shoulders.
I must give kudos to Taylor Anthony Miller, who is stuck with the burden of making his character, the afore-mentioned Chris Connor, likeable. Since it is not clear that he is supposed to be our hero, it is hard to take his side. Even as an anti-hero, the character must have one redeeming quality and since Chris is written as stubborn throughout, it was hard to find one. But Carroll has not really given us any reason to root for any of these characters. Miller has to do the heavy lifting here and if he can’t make us feel for his character, the play fails. Fortunately, Miller is a likeable actor on stage and he infuses his Chris with gusto. His epiphany (alone on stage as phones are ringing off the hook and he scrambles to keep up the façade) becomes the most interesting and intense moment of the play.
Another standout is Patrick Melville as an overeager Wall Street Stockbroker who has volunteered to help out at the polls before heading off to work. Though obviously comic relief, his character was believable and appealing. It’s a shame he isn’t given more to do.
The set design by Josh Iacovelli is detailed and feels right. Since The Believers is set in the not-too-distant past, it’s hard to remember that only a short time ago we didn’t rely as much on computers to do more than store data and cell phones were a luxury, not a necessity. The sound design by Matt Otto is vital in this show as it relies much on constant phones ringing, radios and TVs being turned on and off and the timing on all was flawless. The Storm Theatre has done a lot with the unique space they have at the Church of Notre Dame and the space is large and accomodating.
The Believers may open up dialogue about beliefs and the extreme lengths that some people will go to follow those beliefs. What’s missing from the script could stir many a post-show discussion.