There are plays that go on too long for no good reason. The Long Shrift would be one. Not that the entire piece was a wash. It just didn’t know when to stop. Sort of like a five year old child who knows she has your attention and wants to hang on to it for as long as she can.
Sarah and Henry (Ally Sheedy and Brian Lally) are the parents of Richie (Scott Haze) who was recently convicted of rape at the end of his Senior year in high school. His accuser Beth (Ahna O’Reilly) was a classmate. She was the class princess in all the ways that mattered. Looks, smarts and money. When she came on to him at a party, one thing led to another and it was pronounced rape. Instead of going to college Richie went to prison. His parents changed locations as well, selling their house to pay legal fees and settling into what Sarah refers to as a hovel. A kind of efficiency with one bedroom and one all purpose room. There is no view. It is without charm and without hope.
We learn all this in the well written but poorly executed first scene. Sarah and Henry are moving in to their depressing new digs, and the subject of how any why they are there comes up. Turns out that Sarah believes her son is guilty, while Henry does not. Sarah will not visit Richie because of her doubt. And she will stop taking her heart medication because she sees no other way out.
Fast forward 10 years (with no visible change in Henry) and Richie is “home”. He has been out of prison for five years because Beth recanted. But this is his first time to see his father. Richie has developed into a miserable mean man, in spite of Henry’s faith in him. Sarah is dead. The two of them never connected after Richie went to prison. Richie resents everything on which he lays eyes. So when Beth shows up seeking closure he is vile as well as violent.
This is also an intriguing plot point. Beth is determined to have her say. As a matter of fact she more or less feels entitled to it, not only for what she went through on the night that changed their lives but for recanting, which cost her all her friends, her marriage and her father’s approval. Because of the other, each has lost everything. Whether or not they like it, they are joined at the hip.
The story abruptly belly flops with the appearance of Macy (Allie Gallerani) the perky and self-absorbed class president who wants the unhappy couple to not only attend their 10 year reunion (since when are reunions run by current students???) but to appear onstage as a filler between other guests. Richie agrees and Beth goes along with this in exchange for his promise that after the event he will listen to what she has to say. After Richie and Macy have an entirely unbelievable sexual drive-by, the three of them head off to the reunion where there is an even more unbelievable scene to plow through.
The play then takes the slow road to completion. It is as if the entire cast is submerged into an enormous tank of water where they cannot move or speak in a normal way. There is an unnecessary dream scene between Henry and Sarah and the final scene between Richie and Beth refuses to end.
This is one of those plays that makes you long for a dramaturge. What is unique never gets a chance to shine because it is pulled under by the sheer weight of the unnecessary and uninteresting text. A near confession on Beth’s part is overlooked by Henry. An unseen dog serves no purpose. Beth’s confrontation runs on like a soap opera scene. The running time of 100 minutes could easily have been reduced to 80. How did no one notice that there were too many words and too little action?
Mr. Franco’s direction does little to help. It is listless and lacking detail. Liquor bottles that were part of the original move-in day are still in the same place 10 years later. When Henry returns home after Richie has trashed the apartment he is unconvincingly placed facing upstage in order to have an opportunity to turn and fake surprise. The door that has trouble opening and closing is the same for a decade and hides the people who have extensive conversations at the entry way. As to the blocking, there pretty much isn’t any so the actors are left to handle this very tedious text on their own. Unfortunately none of them is strong enough to bear the weight, and as the play finally capsizes they all go down with the ship.
The Long Shrift – By Robert Boswell; directed by James Franco
WITH: Allie Gallerani (Macy), Scott Haze (Richard), Brian Lally (Henry), Ahna O’Reilly (Beth) and Ally Sheedy (Sarah).
Sets by Andromache Chalfant; costumes by Jessica Pabst; lighting by Burke Brown; sound by Bart Fasbender; fight director, UnkleDave’s Fight-House; special effects design by Jeremy Chernick; production manager, Eugenia Furneaux; production stage manager, Andrew Slater. Presented by Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, David Van Asselt, artistic director; Brian Long, managing director. At the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place, at 11th Street, Greenwich Village, 866-811-4111, rattlestick.org. Through Aug. 23. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes.