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2/15/13

From White Plains - A Real Show Pulled From Real Life. Really.


I understand why playwrights, classic and current, go for theatricality in...well, the theater. Theater is an escape and like television and movies, the parameters of reality are distorted for the sake of entertainment. The best shows are able to pull a theme, a storyarch or a character's development and make it relatable without being boring. When you think about it, that's not always an easy feat.

From White Plains, now open at the Pershing Square Signature Company, upends that notion that a story and its characters need to push, or even surpass, the boundaries of reality to be entertaining.

That rug is gorgeous, by the way. Carry on!
It's the writing that seals the deal here. Revolving around a former bully in an Internet-feud with one of his victims a decade or so after high school when the latter calls him out on national TV, From White Plains has a quiet confidence abound by letting its authenticity be center stage. Yes, there are some dramatic moments and some histrionic behaviors - how could there not be - but I found myself intrigued and listening intently because you can see yourself in the characters and the dialogue, whether you have ever been gay, bullied, both, or even just a witness to it on the most customary level (which is pretty much the entire world because articles dealing with bullying are published close to daily, it seems).

That would have been commendable enough, but From White Plains managed to incorporate even more then its "ripped from the headlines" topic of LGBTQ bullying (and suicide) and its "ripped from real-life conversation" dialogue about dealing with the traumas of your past and moving past them (if ever). I think I liked it so much because a thorough context, motives and explanations was relayed between the two central relationships - the bully and his best friend on the one hand, the victim and his boyfriend on the other. Even better, any ethical or morality questions the play poses really don't favor any one side or perspective more then the others, leaving the audience in the aftermath thinking about the whole picture and possibly, choosing sides. The writing isn't a knock-out because its exciting at every turn, but because pathos-wise, you are along with both parties and want to see the story through.

The show is not infallible with a contrivance or two (or three) setting up the premise. An Oscar acceptance speech being the macguffin starting it all? A chance train ride conversation between the best friend of the bully and the boyfriend of the victim, unbeknownst to each other? A confrontation in a talk show green room? C'mon...I couldn't roll my eyes hard enough, but I was quick to forgive in the light of the brilliant character study and the morality and ethical questions the show poses effortlessly and without much pretension.

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out Aaron Rossini's performance was shockingly great given he had the most difficult job: playing Ethan, the bully. It would be far too easy to write the character off as that dude who was a jackass in high school and never comprehended the repercussions of his actions. Thing is, we see elements of Ethan indicating he is that same flawed being today (a scene at a bar, which was very well done). Rossini conveys that flawed humanity without going overboard and as Ethan's downward spiral continues, his feelings of helplessness and regret are spot-on and absolutely heartbreaking as a result. Karl Gregory, playing Dennis, the victim, nailed his closing monologue of feelz (upon seeing Ethan face-to-face for the first time), but I found my eyes drifting over to Rossini, who in lieu of words, said it all with one internalizing facial expression - he finally saw the impact of what he has done, first-hand.

I'd am prone to loving From White Plains on how time capsule-y it is for 2013. In fact, it feels so expected this show would come about given what populates the news and popular discussion, but I think I was thrown a curveball by how the story didn't really deviate from the stark, natural quality you assume the inspiration came from. There's something to be said for that type of concept and when the characters and themes are fully-realized and provocative, you enjoy it for what it is. And in the case of From White Plains, you enjoy it a lot.


Ticket Provided by the Press Agent
Photo Credit: Jared J. Goldberg

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