When the play opens, we see Henry and Sarah bickering as they move into an ugly apartment after selling their home to pay for their son Richard's legal bills. Richard is now serving ten years in prison for rape, and Henry is horrified by his growing realization that Sarah believes it is possible that Richard is guilty. In the second scene, years have passed, and Richard is home, hardened and bitter. Then Beth, his accuser, shows up, wanting to discuss what really happened on that long-ago night that exploded both of their lives into shards of pain.
This is a strong set-up, but author Robert Boswell is not effective on a line-by-line and plotting basis. There is a weird detour to a high school reunion, an awkward dream sequence, an ambitious and giggly high school senior formed completely out of cliches, and other serious blunders. Boswell is not helped by director James Franco's generally mediocre direction, which gives the play klutzy pacing, uneven performances,and a tone that bumbles through various flavors of melodrama.
Only Brian Lally, as the stubbornly loyal father, and Ahna O'Reilly, as Richards' accuser, rise above the awkwardness, providing consistently believable, three-dimensional characters. Allie Gallerani fulfills the cliches required by her role as the high school senior, and Scott Haze as Richard has moments. Ally Sheedy comes across as completely uncomfortable.
In the last scene of the play, Richard and Beth have their conversation, and it's effective and moving. Boswell gives us two people genuinely trying to be honest about a situation that lacks a clear truth. I imagine that it will become quite popular for scene work in acting classes. For the length of that discussion, The Long Shrift realizes its promise. If only the rest of the play were at this level.
(press ticket, 8th row)