Nashville playwright Jim Reyland stages his strongest script yet
A Terrific Lieby Martin Brady
Presented by Writer's Stage
Through Nov. 21 at The Next Level, 1008 Charlotte Ave.
A Terrible Lie, Nashville playwright Jim Reyland's latest work, might be his best so far. The credible scenario revolves around a personally conflicted writer desperate to publish his next book, his faithful wife and some of the residents of the retirement home where she works as a nurse. Any more plot details would venture into spoiler territory.
As always, Reyland displays a gift for dialogue, and he moves his audience seamlessly between the couple's apartment and the senior residence, weaving an interesting tale of human weakness and need exemplified by the differing priorities of youth and old age.
The cast, under the direction of Barry Scott, is uniformly excellent. Ross Bolen and Alice Raver deliver sharp, sensitive work in the leading roles, but it's particularly gratifying to experience the performances of longtime Nashville veteran Cecil Jones and Jeremy Childs, the latter on a local stage for the first time in recent memory. Childs is superb in a finely etched portrait of a man with an edge but also a conscience. Jones' wife, Jane Jones, also makes a return to live theater with a convincing and poignant portrayal of Raver's wheelchair-bound, Alzheimer's-afflicted mother. Equally good, only sassier, are Dorothy Robinson and Martha Manning as a pair of senior sisters of indefatigable spirit.
More so than his previous effort Article Four, Reyland's drama seems to have gained a lot through its monthlong workshop process leading up to the opening — not to mention that this script features more realistic characters and plot development, resulting in a more satisfying emotional experience.
Article 4 strains credibility, but forceful acting carries the day
By Martin Brady
Published on November 11, 2009 at 10:25am
Whatever faults Jim Reyland's original play Article 4 has, lack of ambition or incident isn't among them. Now up in a workshop production under the thorough direction of Barry Scott, Reyland's script-in-progress delivers a fitful, convoluted character study of one Jonathan Forty, a middle-aged man given up for adoption in infancy. Having grown up to become a piano teacher in Cincinnati, Forty's life changes abruptly when he is named heir to his birth father's fortune. He assumes a capricious attitude toward his new largesse—including ownership of the New York Jets, whose coach he bedevils with midgame calls.
Article 4 is nothing if not eventful,
and it's remarkable how much Reyland packs into its two-and-a-half hours. Forty takes in a piano student who doubles as his housekeeper, then eventually marries her despite her affection for another man. They have a child, she leaves him—prenuptial agreement in place—and from there Forty raises his son, James, in a reclusive and repressed atmosphere, presumably in some twisted kind of effort to reconcile his own feelings of parental rejection. There are 10 different scenes, which begin 15 years into the past then lurch forward to the present day—whereupon James' mother attempts a reunion, only to find Forty a withered, arthritis-wracked misanthrope intent on keeping them apart.
The production benefits most from attentive professional casting. The key element here is Mark Cabus' epic, intensely physical performance in the lead role, which offers a portrait of a man who seems initially childlike and playful but later petulant, cynical and unforgiving. Such a drastic shift in temperament might be easier to accept if the arrestedly developed Forty didn't seem to bring it all upon himself. That he does so forms the arc of the play, and if it's ultimately bitterness and self-loathing you want in your protagonist, then his dour portrayal certainly is successfully wrought.
The other actors all turn in sincere work, and only the script's improbabilities and jolting time shifts prohibit them from achieving more. That includes Jamie Farmer as the North Carolina wannabe who charms Forty then marries him for practical reasons; Evelyn Blythe as an obnoxious neighbor looking to relieve Forty of some of his money; and Ted Welch as the young lover, who is portrayed early on as an alcoholic loser but later gains success as a best-selling author.
Maybe the most purely enjoyable performance is that of Greg Wilson as Forty's lawyer, who becomes an enduring and endearing figure—not to mention an island of stability in an otherwise unpredictable sea of emotion. Also surprisingly good is Chris Goodrich, a junior at Montgomery Bell Academy, who lends a tender vulnerability to the role of James.
In spite of the flaws that strain its credibility, Article 4 challenges with its untoward forward motion,bulwarked throughout by the author's talent for realistic dialogue. Between Cabus and the play's stark conclusion, expect a double whammy of pathos.