From White Plains
October 16 – November 10; Kitchen Theatre
417 W. MLK Jr./State St. in Ithaca NY 14850
TIX: (607) 272 0570 www.kitchentheatre.org
From White Plains was conceived and directed by Michael Perlman, and written and developed in collaboration with the original company of actors and designers. Sustained after-effects of high school bullying (15 years later) is at the heart of this play that asks tough questions about maturity, vengeance, anger, love, friendship and ultimately forgiveness.
Friends since college, Ethan (Aaron Rossini) and John (Craig Wesley Divino) are listening to filmmaker Dennis’s (Karl Gregory) Oscar acceptance speech while watching the Academy awards on television. Dennis names Ethan as the high school bully who caused his friend Mitchell to commit suicide and whose story is portrayed in his film. At first Ethan denies the charge to John, but once he gets a drink into him his memory hazily comes back. John wants to know what he did to Mitchell. Then comes the onslaught of social media (cellphone calls that aren’t answered initially) from his friends and family who also heard it on the television. This prompts Ethan to make a video of apology and post it on-line because he doesn’t consider himself a bully and believes this will stop the public harassment and humiliation on Facebook and elsewhere. It doesn’t. At one point, John says, “Tell me what happened in high school to make someone kill himself.”
While Dennis constructs the first of several response videos to post on the internet, his life partner Gregory (Jimmy King) tries to encourage him to tone down the harsh, angry language but with only some influence. Dennis wants revenge for Ethan’s egregious behavior during high school. And of course this exchange grows heated as it mines yet another vein of the intertwined themes of love and respect: their relationship to each other, to their families and to their LGBT community.
We later learn that Dennis was also a victim of Ethan’s relentless bullying of weaker boys to a get a laugh out of his friends. Dennis still hears Ethan’s voice in his head and when he finally meets Ethan again, remembers ”the glee in your eyes when you saw us coming.”
Each of the two sets of men make several attempts to understand what’s causing certain behaviors; alliances weaken with each new piece of information that questions the nature of their respective relationships. The languages of body and spoken word shift down slowly, speed up abruptly and are constantly in motion while being interrupted (or goaded on) by the social media technology of texts, tweets, messaging, posting on laptops, that at times seem to raise the level of tension to a fever pitch.
All four actors strongly embrace their individual characters in what must be a difficult play to perform, let alone watch. From White Plainsaddresses several important modes of public and private behavior that our society continues to struggle with today and sheds an important light on the limits of forgiveness. From White Plains is a “must see” play.