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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Benefactors

Michael Frayn's play, Benefactors, is a gripping, poignant, and dramatic new work now playing off-Broadway at Theatre Row on 42nd Street.  You might recognize another of his hit-plays, Noises Off, which has played on and off-Broadway multiple times.  The 4 actors, Vivienne Benesch, Daniel Jenkins, Stephen Baker Turner, and Deanne Lorette, each give superb performances and seem to be perfectly cast in their roles.

Is the play a scosche too long? Probably.  Could that be easily fixed?  Certainly.  I'm not worried one bit.  What I am worried about is the title itself.  After you hear the dialogue and absorb the subject matter, it seemed to me, and a few others leaving the theatre, that the title was a bit deceptive in two ways: First, it drove me to think that the entire play there was some invisible character that was going to pop out of the woodwork who would be a plausible explanation for the mounting conflict we were watching unfold on stage.  No such luck.   Second, it had no direct connection to the play unfolding before my eyes.  It was only after the play upon reflection that I properly determined what it was supposed to represent.  Mr. Frayn, how about the obvious - Basuto Road.  Innocuous.  Mysterious.  Has a powerful, dramatic, and ominous tone to it, no?  After the obvious, I'm sure there are some other equally appropriate lines from the play that could have been turned into the show's title.   The choice of Benefactors served only to un-focus my attention to the story because I was constantly distracted in trying to figure out - who is the mystery man behind the story that is the "Benefactor"?  When are we going to meet him?  When will the plot be resolved?   It moved my focus away from the brilliantly crafted character study being performed.  

Title aside, the play is thought provoking, intelligent, well acted and well-structured.  Kudos to the director, Carl Forsman for what appeared to me to be quite snappy staging with a subtle story-telling aspect cleverly built into the delivery of the dialogue.