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A CurtainUp Review The Messenger

L toR: Troy Garrity &
Daniel Gerroll
(Photo: Carol Rosegg )
If the gun control lobby were looking for a chilling illustration of the dangers of ordinary citizens keeping guns, they needn't go further than the Rattlestick Theater where David Van Asselt's The Messenger has just opened. As briskly staged by Stephen DiMenna the nightmarish scenario in which a cool and collected department store executive's disdainful attitude towards a surly delivery man leads to a deadly power struggle immediately establishes the tension.

The play charges forward with enough edge in its dialogue to skirt around the plot's potholes and with performances that are sturdy enough to keep the pasteboard character elements from being too transparent. As Charles Bell, the CEO of his family's department store, the always excellent Daniel Gerroll shuttles from calm haughtiness to desperation and, finally, to the descent into the twilight zone of his oppressor's madness. Troy Garity as Ivan, veers between being funny and wildly off kilter as the crafty and frighteningly volatile messenger. Amy Redford ably rounds out the cast in a small but crucial role. (In case the pedigree of new young editors is of interest, Garity's mom is Jane Fonda and Redford's dad is the one and only Robert).

Set in the entrance foyer of a Manhattan penthouse apartment the drama takes place during a single evening. It begins with the insistent sound of the apartment door's buzzer. Charles Bell is too smart a city dweller to casually open the door to a messenger who was unannounced by the doorman. And yet, for all his caution and suspicion there, quick as a wink, the messenger is standing on Bell's pale carpet -- grungy, in-your-face rude and boiling with pent-up resentment about the way people regard him as if he were no more human than the packages he delivers.

Ivan is not your run of the mill tough-talking, don't mess with me member of the city's underbelly population. He's not a petty thief masquerading as a messenger either. In fact, as is quickly evident he's picked up quite an education -- much of it from hundreds of hours of television watching. Finding himself in what is obviously the apartment of a man who's got everything that has eluded him, Bell's short-tempered superior attitude is the fuse that sets off Ivan's ticking inner bomb.

One moment of violence is all it takes for the tense situation to escalate fast and furiously and finally culminate in a second act role reversal. I won't be a spoiler by revealing the climax here. I will say, that I found it fell short of bringing an intriguing idea to a credible and satisfying solution. The potholes I mentioned earlier multiply and are not filled in -- not a good thing as any seasoned thriller fan knows.

High on this list of bumps in the road: 1. There are two guns -- but the reason for the ownership of the second larger one is never explained, making it just a facile plot expedient. 2. The absence of the doorman which makes it possible for Ivan to go to the penthouse unannounced is explained, but not convincingly. This kind of luxury building usually has a concierge desk and even if there were just one attendant on duty, there would be some backup personnel so that security would not be breached. 3. The dress which finally reveals that Ivan's assumptions about Bell weren't so far afield tumbles out of the box raising more questions than it answers.

There have been several attempts to bring the mystery thriller back to the stage. The Messenger, while handsomely staged and well acted, is hardly likely to restore this genre to its former status as reliable stage fare. Even without its flaws and with some judicious editing, it would probably play better on television.

Rattlestick Productions, housed in the intimate little Rattlestick Theater (formerly known as Theater Off Park) has a worthy mission of presenting new works by young playwrights without the pressures of larger commercial houses. I've seen and reviewed enough of their productions to recommend them as a company well worth watching. Their web site includes more details about their mission, future plays, a schedule of forthcoming readings, and detailed instructions for getting to the venue. Some plays we've previously reviewed there include: Winning. . .The Heart of Man. . .The Weatherbox.

By David Van Asselt
Directed by Stephen DiMenna

Starring: Daniel Gerroll; with Troy Garity and Amy Hart Redford
Set Design: David Korins
Lighting Design: Ed McCarthy
Costume Design: Anne Marie Wright
Sound Design: Laura Grace Brown
Running time: 75 minutes plus one 15-minute intermission
Rattlestick Theatre (formerly Theatre Off Park) at 224 Waverly Place. (212) 532-8887
3/15/2000-4/16/2000; opening 3/19/2000

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 3/17 performance

©Copyright 2000, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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