Friday, September 12, 2003

Redemption songs: They're all some never have

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Have you ever done something you really shouldn’t have? Not something small, either, like "borrowing" the boss’s car or taking off your wedding band in a bar filled with attractive singles. Something really, really big, that you’ve known all your life you shouldn’t do. Like threatening a loved one, and following through.

Is it possible to make up for that? Should it be? Who deserves a second chance? Is there anyone who doesn’t?

Admittedly, there are the Ted Bundys and Jeffrey Dahmers of the world, folks the law — and most of society — condemns to never get another shot. Some, like Bundy, are executed legally, by badge-wearing officials reading black-robed justices’ sentences. Others, like Dahmer, meet their fates in murkier ways, killed in jailhouse "incidents" by "out-of-control" fellow inmates, while overworked guards just happened to be looking elsewhere.

Enough about serial killers. What about the people who kill the living, the slaughterers of souls and spirits, extinguishers of dreams and hopes: people who commit domestic violence. (We don’t even have a name for them, like "murderer," and are left with an emotionless legal term. Instead, let’s call them DVers.)

Somehow, society tends to view DVers as lesser transgressors, even though their deeds, too, are destructive, unreasonable, and impossible to forgive. Rather than facing universal condemnation, DVers’ moral futures are muddy. Can victims — can society — forget, even without forgiving, or alternately move on, having done neither, but tolerating the violators’ presence? Or should DVers, too, be cast beyond the pale, like Bundy and Dahmer? Second Chance starts the discussion with a snap.

Written and directed by Kittery playwright Evelyn Jones, the play unravels the twists of fate, allowing the audience to follow the twisting of strings paying out through time from incidents in the past, intertwining lives in unexpected ways.

Starting with a quality facade hiding drugs, alcohol, and egotism, Second Chance moves through the logical conclusion to all domestic violence — murder — and beyond, exploring the vagaries of the DVer’s mind. We follow a search for direction devoid of a moral compass.

(A brief digression: The play itself seems to lack a compass or map. The first scene is in the evening somewhere in New York state; 24 hours later, on a run for the Canadian border, Dennis (Andrew Fling) still hasn’t made it. If he were serious, on a highway and doing roughly the speed limit, he’d have cleared customs by daybreak, regardless of starting point.)

We watch, electrified, as a control freak tries to dictate to a corpse, and later, denying culpability, vows revenge on the attacker of his beloved DV victim.

The most compelling moment of the story is when the veil of hints is swept away in a panic-stricken exchange between a lonely man and two parents (not his) in the middle of the night. "Sit back, on the edge of your seat," as the Host (Jennifer Mason) says in the prologue. This is a ripper of a tale, cleverly told, with all threads tied, though not at all neatly, by the end of Act 2.

The play is beautifully acted, though giving specifics would reveal too much. Dinah Schultze, in her debut as a lead role (Jill), gives a taste of what she can do, and promises — both plot-wise and professionally — power far beyond what we see on stage. Fling, as the DVer, mixes the Jekyll and Hyde well, both shaking and stirring the audience. Thorpe Feidt is a frightening (for this journalist, at least) caricature of those spot-news TV freelancers who appear at the most unusual moments in real life.

There are several elegant touches to the stage management: Stagehands’ faces are shrouded in Eyes Wide Shut maroon hoods; an actor whose character is dead has her body hauled off as if to the coroner. The set itself is pure Players’ Ring, flexible and functional, but unadorned and not distracting. The overhead projector is lovingly jury-rigged to the ceiling, and the swingset’s two beam-embedded eyehooks hold. The makeup also helps, subtly reinforcing the line between life and death.

The music, too, all well known pieces, supports the storyline in clever ways. It is, though, the writing that brings this show to its peak and the audience along, simultaneously willingly and inextricably.

"They make horror movies about beautiful young women materializing out of the dark," Dennis says. If only those beautiful DV victims — for they all are — could appear out of the darkness, reborn and empowered, then the DVers would see real horror begin. In seats before a stage, we look on helplessly. Are we — and they — doomed to have us do the same in the real world?

Second Chance
Written and directed by Evelyn Jones. With Andrew Fling, Dinah Schultze, and Nicole MacMillan. At the Players’ Ring, in Portsmouth, NH, through Sept. 21. Call (603) 436-8123.

BACKSTAGE

• If you haven’t yet, find a way to see UltraLight, Michael Gorman’s homage to his love for his brother, killed by a heroin addiction. Yes, it occupied plenty of space on this page last week, but it’s even better than it was billed to be. Just go.

Eleventh & Love, Tim Collins’s show offering an international perspective on September 11, will be at the St. Lawrence, September 18 and 19, at 7 p.m., and September 20, at 4 and 7 p.m.

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