by Teddy Nicholas · July 14, 2014
Robert Boswell’s The Long Shrift (playing at Rattlestick thru August 23rd) is a claustrophobic tense drama about a young man who may or may not have been falsely accused of rape.
Richard Singer (Scott Haze) has just been released from a nine-year stint in prison after his accuser, former high school classmate Beth Murphey (Anna O’Reilly) recants her testimony in which she claims Richard had raped her at a party when they were seniors. Richard’s long-suffering father Henry (Brian Lally) shelters his newly-minted ex-con son and an unseen dog that scratches noisily at a door--another animal trapped in a cage. But when Beth unexpectedly shows up at the Singer residence with a mysterious metal box and a high school girl named Macy Cummings (Allie Gallerani), past tensions resurface and stark confrontations occur. Beth hopes to offer some comfort with the contents of the metal box which Richard refuses to acknowledge. Instead, Richard would rather use Beth and the bubbly Macy as pawns in a pseudo-revenge/confessional stunt in front of all his former classmates. But Beth is dead set on confronting the past with Richard together and finally deciding what actually happened that fateful night when they were seniors in high school.
There is, of course, another player in this drama. Richard’s mother, Sarah Singer (a marvelous yet underused Ally Sheedy), opens the play holding a delicate vase while unpacking in their new home shortly after Richard was sent to prison. The Singers’ sold their home in order to pay for Richard’s lawyer fees and they set up residence in a cramped, motel-like home where the door barely opens and closes because of the heavy carpeting. Henry can’t understand how Sarah could avoid visiting her son in prison as Henry visits Richard every week. But Sarah doesn’t see the innocent boy her husband sees. Instead, Sarah withers into a sad sofa, clutching the vase, and forgets to take her medication for heart disease, but stares with a cold precision at what she sees as the truth about her son.
As directed by James Franco, the production moves quite unevenly. The play streamlines the action mostly to one location: the Singer residence. Much of the emphasis is in tone and it is here that the Franco production seems to falter, bouncing from haunted dysfunctional family, tense Oleanna-style drama, and arbitrary high school comedy. In its messy rape culture politics and machismo style, The Long Shrift overshoots its attempts at catharsis, leaving a bitter aftertaste without much substance.