By Holli Harms
Matt Williams’ dark new play about truth, lies, and fear, titled appropriately FEAR, starts with a door bursting open and two males, one a boy and one a grizzled man, crashing in an entangled headlock as the man is choking the boy and yelling, “Why were you at the lake?!”
The man, Phil, the local plumber (a difficult role played with precision and care by Enrico Colantoni), believes the boy, Jamie, (played by the beautifully vulnerable newcomer Alexander Garfin) had something to do with the disappearance of an eight-year-old girl from the neighborhood and so has dragged the boy to this out of the way dilapidated shed to get to the bottom of what went down.
They are soon joined by another member of the community, a tenured college professor Ethan (the superb Obi Abili) who is part of the search to look for the missing child and has stumbled upon Phil and Jamie.
Together in this space, the three neighbors will do their best to uncover their truths about what has happened. They each hold their own secrets and tell each other lies and at some point, no one is sure what is up and what is down between their lives and their beliefs. These are people stuck in their worlds, stuck in their personal truths as to where they stand in the community of their small town. A small town where eyes are always peering over the rose bushes, but do they actually see something or are they creating their own narrative, making up stories to fit their personal survival in this town and their world? They will be judge, jury, and executioner to one another.
This is a story as much about fathers and sons and their relationships that either nurture or slowly destroy. It is an understood fact that difficult childhoods can create criminals, but are criminals thus always evil? Are the seeds of evil planted and grown by the home environment? Do we innately dehumanize the enemy, or who we perceive as the enemy, to make violence easier to inflict?
We are made evil, is the argument, not born evil. Our upbringing, our belief in ourselves or lack thereof, all contribute to who we become. Fear creates an actual biological shift in our bodies. Ethan says that when we are scared our brains change and we abandon our humanity and clarity.
Fear is, “An emotion generally induced when the subject perceives a threat.” These three characters are threatening one another again and again in this 80-minute ride.
The writing is at times uneven and caught up in its own desire to instruct, and parts of the “why are each of the characters staying in this shed” hard to swallow, but the actors hold it together and we want to stay with them and see where this all unravels.
The personal story of these characters is layered like baklava, 40 sheets of story upon story with a lot of sticky in between. I am still not sure what was the truth and was not but suspect that in most of those layers lies a little of both.
The actors are exceptional.
The set, a tool shed full of tools that are never used. They hang on the walls untouched. Wasted to set decoration. I mean these three characters have rage, they have anger, they have fear, and all around are objects that could accommodate those feelings and yet nothing really explodes. The fear is a little too clean and tidy. With an opening so volatile, there are expectations of more to come, but those expectations are never met as the play becomes more and more “safe” and the safety becomes a hindrance. Take the kid gloves off and let this ensemble go for it – they are as ready as we are.
FEAR written by Matt Williams, directed by Tea Alagić
Starring Obi Abili, Enrico Colantoni, and Alexander Garfin
The creative team includes scenic designer is Andrew Boyce, lighting designer is D.M. Wood costume designer is Oana Botez, sound designer is Jane Shaw, fight director is J. David Brimmer, Christine Catti is Production Stage Manager.
RUNNING TIME: 80 MINUTES
FEAR October 24 and run through December 8, 2019, at the Lucille Lortel Theatre located at 121 Christopher Street. Tickets are $65 – $89( plus a $2 facility fee) and can be purchased by visiting www.FearthePlay.com or by calling (866) 811-4111. FEAR will play Tuesday at 7 pm; Wednesday – Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 pm & 8 pm; Sunday at 3 pm (added performance Monday, October 21, October 28, November 25 at 7 pm and Friday, November 29 at 3 pm).