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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Don’t ‘Bash: Latter Day Plays’

Published: March 9, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc., Featured

“Bash: Latter Day Plays,” put on by Free Play this weekend, is a show that’s particularly hard to swallow. On one hand, it is a show about Mormons and their sins that, given the background of Mormons, sounds terribly dull. As a result of the play, on the other hand, the writer Neil LaBute, was excommunicated, which is already an interesting enough backstory to any show.

The show itself consisted of three 30-minute acts, two of which were monologues. Interestingly enough, the show was put on in the Mandel Center third floor reading room, an area that’s usually used for studying. This made the show much more intimate, particularly on opening night when less than 10 people showed up to see it. The actors were less than 20 feet away from the audience at all the times but the acoustics of the small room helped create the fourth wall. There is definitely a very awkward feel to the room upon entering that is thankfully relieved by the time the second act begins.

The first act, however, was the worst part of the show. Julian Seltzer ’15 played a young husband who appears to be at a party of some sort although he insists he only drinks water. Seltzer’s presence was generally very awkward, which was amplified by the small room and the intimate setting. At first it is hard to determine whether he is supposed to be acting that socially inept. As he dragged on and proceeded to go almost nowhere within the first 10 minutes of “Uhh”-ing, “Well…”-ing and nervous twitching, some semblance of a story began to unfold. Seltzer’s character tells the story of having a three-month old infant and how she died because he fell asleep while she was in their bed, and she smothered herself in their comforter. Later it is revealed that he actually had planned the entire thing, and had indirectly killed his daughter by coaxing her far under the comforter.

Though I feel that the first act could have been very moving, it was the least effective of the three acts. Seltzer’s awkwardness (repetitive, but this may be the only word to describe accurately what was occurring onstage) was incredibly distracting. If he was attempting to be a boring, middle-class husband, he certainly succeeded. He paused frequently and oftentimes, his sentence would be lost or he would start his thought over to a very negative effect. In addition, Seltzer seemed to have forgotten his lines frequently and this was obvious by his frequent pauses.

After that attempt, the second act and the third act are very much worth watching. The second act feature a college-aged couple who are in seemingly madly in love and go to Manhattan one weekend to attend a party with some friends. It is portrayed in such a way that the couple, John (Ben Gold ’13) and Sue (Corrie Legge ’14), never completely acknowledge each other but speak only to the audience. At first, it is to an endearing effect as they each recall their courtship, and frequently remind the audience that they are engaged. As the story unfolds, however, John tells of walking into Central Park, seeing a gay man cruising, and proceeding to beat him until unconscious. In the first act, the half hour dragged on and seemed wholly unnecessary because the feeling that the play is trying to convey is never fully achieved. Gold’s performance, though, is fully worth the build-up and investment into their relationship and their characters. He was definitely the best actor of this four-person show, and as he laughed about how funny it was to nearly kill a man, it is hard not to be slightly terrified of him. His presence and flexibility in his segue from “great boyfriend” to “cold-blood murderer” is a smooth and disconcerting one, and is a performance worth seeing this show for.

After such a knockout performance, Nicole Carlson ’14 carried the show to the end. At this point in the show, the audience expects the characters to have killed at least one person, so it was a bizarre start as Carlson talks about her middle school teacher when she was 13. The flow of this story was also interesting, especially when juxtaposed to the second act, as it describes her affair with her teacher. When Carlson describes how it felt to kiss him, with her eyes shining, it is clear that something is definitely going to go wrong. In the end, Carlson’s character is pregnant and abandoned, and ends up killing her child after 14 years of keeping him around. By the time she is describing this, chills are going down the backs of the audience members, and Carlson is standing on a table in this small room yelling with her arms in the air. It was a very strong end to what began as a weak show.

The best part of the show is probably how the play and director Amanda Stern ’15 dealt with the Mormonism aspect of the play. It was very understated, and most of the time only indirectly related to the content of the play. Act one has a young man’s devotion to his wife and involves him choosing his wife over his child. This is not from any particular Mormon belief, it is only related in that his Mormonism created his own set of morals. The same is true for act two when John consciously decided to commit a sin for what he believed was a greater sin. In act three, a woman chooses to kill her son because of the wrong that caused his existence, as well as her keeping her part of a deal to her middle school teacher never to tell anyone about their affair.

In that way, “Bash: Latter Day Plays” was effective in its way to be somewhat complex. The performances overall were moving and the few characters in the show allowed them to have the time needed to have their characters sit and stew in the audience’s minds. In short, “Bash” has mixed performances, but is definitely worth seeing this weekend.