Hollow Log by Lawrence Dial is billed as a Comedic Thriller, but I think that’s just economy of words. It’s not so much a comedic thriller as it is a drama, which then becomes a comedy, then moves on to a thriller, then becomes dramatic again then swerves over to tragedy just before ending on a happy note. Sitting through Hollow Log is a bit like renting a whole season of a TV series from Netflix and watching several episodes back to back. As in: the characters are consistent in each episode (read “scene”), but the tone from one episode to the next can change dramatically. Still, after you’ve seen it all together, it’s a pretty satisfying 2 hours, though you’re not sure it all should have been seen one right after the other like that.
Hollow Log felt like settling in for a marathon viewing of Season Three — of a show I’d never seen before. Clues around the set give a little background about what probably happened before we join our characters. There’s some packing tape cordoning off a section of the room; in this little mess is a futon, a stereo, lots of crap, posters, crap, some other stuff, some crap and some junk. Oh, and a sleeping guy. The rest of the apartment is neat and spare, just waiting for some hijinks to occur.
From the looks of it, (Non-Existent-I’m-Making-It-Up-In-My-Head-To-Provide-My-Own-Back-Story) Season One could have been called Bong Boy and probably would have concerned itself with the funny antics of the stoner / slacker Denny (Joachim Boyle) as he mishapped his way through his “life” and mooched off his best friend Annie (Erin Roberts). Oh, that Denny, using his money to buy a pogo stick instead of investing it wisely in something substantial. We can just imagine what mischievous pranks he got into as he smoked his bong, probably never changing out of that bathrobe (or his underwear) for days.
Season Two (Equally Made-Up-By-Me) would have been called Getting Grown Up and would have given some meaty conflicts to Annie as she runs her bar, “Clean and Cleaner”, and grows continually more frustrated at having to bail her best friend out of one jam after another. And let’s not forget, poor Annie’s an orphan, albeit a grown up rich one who can afford to eat Nobu take-out for dinner. (Just let that settle: Nobu. Take out. It’s one thing to be so rich that you want to show everyone that you can get a table right down the aisle from the Spielbergs. It’s another thing to be so rich that you can just want to eat the pricey food in the comfort of your own home.)
Now, as the lights come up on Season Three, or, you know, Hollow Log, Denny is about to be evicted / gently nudged from the nest (depending on which side of the taped-down room you’re standing on) he shares with Annie. You can feel Annie’s frustration as she tries not to pick up the pieces for Denny YET AGAIN. She vacillates between wanting to set Denny up with a life-in-a-box (enabler) to tearing up his last 13 dollars … all the money he seems to have in the world (tough love). Neither choice seems to give her much peace. Either way, she’s getting married to Ray (Matt Yeager) soon and needs to rip the tape off the floor, metaphorically as well as literally. Now, of course, here’s where the twist comes in. Coincidentally a man who may or may not be using a fake Russian accent may or may not have put a set of real or fake circumstances in motion today and life for Denny and Annie may change in ways they hadn’t planned.
Annie had a heck of a day, and after telling Denny about it, it looks like things may or may not change, depending on what they decide to do. This happened, that happened, and right now there possibly may be a big bag of ecstasy that could potentially be sold to “a guy”. Or, you know, it could just be a big ole bag of Smarties. There’s some debate there. In any case, Episode One is all about Denny and Annie and not so much how the hell they managed to stay friends for so long (some friends who are completely different just do) but more how the hell are they going to continue to stay friends once the staus quo is status gone? Confused? You won’t be after this week’s episode of … Lights down, scene change. Here’s where you’d stop if you were so inclined. But this is a play.
Lights back up and let’s call this Episode Two – The Russian Dude. Boris (Andrew Kaempfer), has somehow gotten into the apartment and he’s either there to confirm Annie’s story about this possible bag of ecstasy, or it’s all just a big ruse. Either way, he’s threatening Denny in a whole different way and not having a place to live suddenly seems so last episode. Boris is menacing, strange, creepy … and then he’s gone.
Episode Three – The One With All The Jealousy. (Okay, I copped that from Friends, but there’s a reason. 1. Because this one is the one with all the jealousy. And 2. Because this is the funny one.) When Ray comes storming back from Russia, looking for Annie, he and Denny verbally spar about who loves her more, and who knows her best and who has the right and who should get out and who should shut up and who should … you get the picture. Some of the funniest, most crackling moments happen between these two characters, the most laugh out loud, hilarious moments of the play. Meanwhile, Annie’s missing and no one knows why. Hmmmm. Tension.
Episode Four – What the Hell? Things get a little strange when Boris, Ray and Denny are all in the same room together. Strange and then very strange. Not confusing strange, just “wait a second, is this the same play?” strange. Which is why this play feels like several episodes of the same series. I’m not saying it’s bad, or that it doesn’t belong, or that it takes away from the plot or that it doesn’t make sense. I’m just saying that tonally it’s another episode all together. There’s some interesting revelations, some EEEEWWWW moments, some Ah-ha! moments … and some very, very, very strange things. But wait, this episode is a two parter …
Episode Five – the Big Finish. Oh My God! Where have you …? Never mind that … why are you …? No time to explain. We’ve got to get out of here before they … Oh no! Too late! Grab the … Well, I can’t give it away but I’ve seen episodes of CSI:NY that had less violence in them.
Episode Six – The Christmas Episode. Every show has one.
Hollow Log has a lot going on in it, and as long as you compartmentalize it all, it’s very well done. The actors are fantastic, particularly Joachim Boyle who has amazing comic timing, yet can play feckless without overdoing it. He may be aimless but he’s not a fool. Erin Roberts, too, plays Annie just right … just because she’s got a heart when it comes to Denny doesn’t mean she’s a complete sap. Matt Yeager and Andrew Kaempfer can make you squirm in your seat at times … which just means they’ve done their job right.
Hollow Log is playing Thursdays through Sundays till February 8th at the Roy Arias Studios (300 West 43rd Street and 8th Avenue). For more information visit their website or click here to purchase tickets.