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6/8/14

A Story Being Told With Conviction

Stating the obvious, but a scandal of some sort is usually the starting point for a lot of plays. The quality, as of late, has been enh-or-miss on the heels of The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin and The Commons of Pensacola, which both tackled the aftermath of a Bernie Madoff-esque scandal.
 
In the case of Conviction, Tom, a well-regarded teacher (who LOVES him some Will Shakespeare!), is imprisoned after being accused of sexual relations with one of his students while she, age-wise, was considered a minor. The timeline is advanced to his release, some four years later, and the toll of this scandal is everywhere in sight - his family, his house, his once-close friends.
 
But part of what makes Conviction - Bay Street Theatre’s newest offering, running until June 15th (Hamptons road-trip!) - slowly resonate with me is that it pays visits to dramatown and subtleville, sometimes within the same scene and other times within a matter of seconds, but the whole shebang was rendered authentically. Like, there could have been all of these moments of awkwardness in the story and their presence was relatively minor. In fact, whenever the story felt a little try-hard - Tom's post-prison, traumatic-like outburst (which went unexplored) and the contrived act one closing scene - I was actively cheering for the story to return to its more effortless roots.
 
We, as an audience, can place ourselves within the context of the story in the sense of aligning with our spirit animal on stage. In the "did he or didn't he" question, the conclusion still has a veil of smoke-screen, but the different characters cover all the bases and the argument is pretty even-keel as the back-and-forth verbal jousting happens. Carey Crim's writing is quite strong in conveying characters and dialogue pulled from real life, yet still be engaging enough for the theatre.
 
Scott Schwartz has a series of fine directorial moments, but my favorite was his trick with aging Nicholas, Tom's son. In the opening scene, just before Tom get's "the call," Nicholas is seen raiding the fridge for a camping trip, looking about 13-14, blond hair and of a short-ish height. I'm guessing Daniel Burns performed that scene on his knees and with a blonde-wig because, fast forward to Tom's release so many year's later, Nicholas' entrance in the scene looked like he was portrayed by a different actor - about 10 feet taller, black hair and gothic/punk clothing. I had to check the program to confirm that it is the same actor (spoiler alert: it is) and the audience and I had a collective audible gasp of "Oh.My.God, is THAT really HIM?"
 
On the acting front, Sarah Paulson is giving the best performance not in Manhattan right now. As the loving, supportive, yet emotionally distraught wife of Tom, Paulson is put through the wringer and doesn't miss a beat as her character runs the gamut from explosive fireworks to an expression of internalized turmoil. Paulson has talent to spare - look no further then her tenure on American Horror Story - and this is a great showcase for her.
 
If may be a long hike to the eastern most part of Long Island (for me, a 90-minute drive) and it is probably a worse commute for the Manhattan-ites reading (anyone have a small plane or a helicopter?), but I found Conviction worth the trip. If only because organic, well-told stories will always have a place in my heart, no matter how familiar the conventions may be.
 
 
Ticket Provided by the Production
 
 
Photo Credit: Jerry Lamonica

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