DramaNew YorkReview

Death of the Liberal Class – New Ohio Theatre, New York

Writer: Robert Lyons

Director: Jerry Heymann

Reviewer: Jamie Rosler

Hacktivism, media, and complicated human relationships are the themes at the heart of Robert Lyons’ newest play, Death of the Liberal Class (inspired by but not directly adapted from the 2010 book of the same name by Chris Hedges), Unfortunately this script only scratches the surface of the issues it raises, getting to the meat of the matter in the last few scenes instead of diving more deeply earlier on. Somehow there is simultaneously too much exposition and not enough information.

Nick, played by Steven Rattazzi, is a left wing ex-journalist who has departed from New York City for the forestry of upstate. His marriage is on the rocks to say the least, and his teenage daughter has followed his path out of the city and up to the family farm. Eventually her online hacktivist boyfriend shows up, as well as his wife, stirring up drama where he thought he’d managed to leave it all behind (extramarital affairs notwithstanding). His daughter Andrea, played by Jeanette Diloné, has taken his radical journalism to heart, and is the product of his own previously espoused views. Having given up on those views himself, Andrea doesn’t get the support she expected for her own online law-breaking.

Ultimately the characters are vague, even though it seems clear that Lyons has a deep understanding of them in his own mind. There is an abyss, though, between what the playwright knows and what ends up on the page and on the stage. Perhaps this is the product of an incompletely drafted play meeting up with less than stellar directing. The actors all have a few very strong moments, but for the most part they seem only on the precipice of their own stories. This script is a preface to the story that could be told.

The symbolism of eggs creates an imagery-based through line, but it’s not clear what the connection or meaning is, other than the fact that raw eggs thrown onto the ground toward the end of the play make for a strong visual. Psycho Killer, a song by The Talking Heads, also makes several appearances with little to no distinct connection to the story at hand or the characters’ objectives and motivations.

Traditional lighting choices, as designed by Seth Reiser, create some lovely separations of space, and draw our attention to the foreground or background, as needed. The use of set pieces on tracks made for some odd scene changes, as each wheeled flat is covered with trees, and so it seems as though the actors are moving trees instead of opening doors. For a production about the fall of liberalism in American society, new media, and hacktivism, it is remarkably traditional in its design and presentation.

There are humorous moments throughout, which is to be expected from a play touted as a dark comedy. It is not, one gets the impression, as funny as it is intended to be. Death of the Liberal Class has, as many new plays often do, the potential to be great theatre. It is timely in its themes, progressive in its casting, and mildly confrontational. However “mild” does not make powerful theatre. Hopefully, from this reviewer’s perspective, there is a more powerful rewrite just around the corner.

Runs until 13 February 2016 |Photo: Steven Schreiber

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