Monday, August 17, 2015

An Intervention

photo: Paul Fox
Mike Bartlett --whose Oliver-winning satire King Charles III will premiere on Broadway in the fall -- wrote his taut, often funny, surprisingly moving An Intervention for a man and a woman. However, there is nothing in the text which specifically genders the characters, called only "A" and "B". (I know, I know: that does ping pretty high on the pretension meter). Williamstown Theatre Festival -- which is producing the American premiere of the play, in a production by the talented Lila Neugebaer -- is presenting the play with two rotating casts: a male/female pairing (Debargo Sanyal and Betty Gilpin) and a male/male pairing (Justin Long and Josh Hamilton). And on four occasions, including yesterday afternoon, both casts will take the stage.

It's certainly taking a big leap of faith to assume that your play is good enough that an audience will want to watch a play, take a ten-minute break, then immediately watch it again, albeit with different actors. And there were a handful of walkouts after the first cast performance yesterday. However, after watching Sanyal and Gilpin, I couldn't wait to see it again with Long and Hamilton.

In brief, the action centers around a friendship between A (Gilpin/Hamilton), a socially conscious teacher, and B (Sanyal/Long), his so-called best friend. Their relationship becomes strained when their government initiates the intervention of the title, which B supports and A vehemently opposes. Further, A is openly hostile towards B's new girlfriend, who views him/her as an incorrigible alcoholic and bad influence.

Although both pairs have their strong selling points, I felt it worked better with Gilpin and Sanyal. There was something kinetic about the male/female dynamic that was missing from Hamilton and Long's interpretation of a platonic heterosexual male friendship. Also, Betty Gilpin -- of whom I've heard but I don't think seen in anything before yesterday -- is a star in the making. What a committed, daring, and heartbreaking performance she is turning in.

Neugebauer's staging is bare bones, yet effective, with subtle differences in pacing and blocking to accommodate the variances in style between the two acting partners. An Intervention runs through Sunday, with Gilpin and Sanyal performing tomorrow night and both performances on Saturday, Long and Hamilton performing at the Thursday and Sunday matinees, and both casts performing on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights. See one or both casts, but see the play if you can. Bartlett is an undeniable talent.

[Rush tickets, house left box seat]

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