The Happiest Medium Review by guest contributors Anjali Koppal and Saurabh Paranjape
Nightsong For The Boatman, a new play by the late Jovanka Bach and brought to life as a loving tribute by her husband John Stark, is an odd creature. Ostensibly a modern take on the ancient Greek play ‘Alcestis’, Nightsong is a strangely excruciating experience, a rambling mess dripping with unfulfilled potential.
The play tells the story of Harry Appleman (John DiFusco), an arrogant, uncaring boozehound past his prime, who has left a trail of human anguish behind him throughout his life. As the play opens, we see a pair of smarmy boatmen (Michael Byrne and Alexander Wells) waiting on the docks for Harry to arrive and keep his end of a lost wager, namely, to sail across the river Styx as their ‘catch’, for their ‘boss’ to savor. Through a series of short vignettes, the play creates an unflattering portrait of Harry and chronicles, quite unconvincingly, the events that led him into his rather strange predicament.
Nightsong is a play that is filled with incredible promise. Unfortunately, none of the promise ever makes its way into the actual production. The dreamlike sets (Jaret Sacrey), imaginative light and sound design (Joe Morrissey) and haunting music (John DeYoung) set the stage quite impressively, almost to the show’s detriment considering how disappointing the actual performance seems in comparison. Right from the get go, most of the cast play their roles in loud, broad strokes, subtlety be damned. Especially guilty of this unforgivable scenery chewing is John DiFusco, whose outlandish portrayal of Harry creates a character so unbelievably loathsome and annoying that it is hard to take him seriously. And it doesn’t help that DiFusco is surrounded by actors who either look bored (J. Lawrence Landis, Alexander Wells), awkward (Geoffrey Hillback, Nicole Scipione) or both (Michael Byrne). It generally isn’t a good sign when a high school junior (Amanda Landis) outshines theater veterans, but that is what you get here.
However, while the actors are certainly at fault for underusing some wonderful dialogue and interesting scenes in the first half, the script is squarely at fault for sinking the boat post intermission. Character motivations shift faster than cabs changing lanes on New York streets, dialogue stops making any sense, and the script essentially implodes as we head into a long, confusing and utterly frustrating end that overstays its welcome by a good thirty minutes. For all its potential, Nightsong For The Boatman feels very much like an unfinished play that is still rough around the edges. Recommended only if watching it gets you out of a Faustian bargain of your own . . .
~~~NIGHTSONG FOR THE BOATMAN Written by Jovanka Bach Directed by John Stark . January 6-30, 2011 Thursday-Saturday at 8:00pm Sunday at 2:00pm . TBG Theatre 312 West 36th Street (between 8th & 9th Avenue) Tickets are $18 / $9 for students & seniors Call Smarttix at 212-868-4444 or click here