Sunday, October 2, 2011


A Shotgun Players presentation of a play in two acts by Adam Bock. Directed by Rose Riordan. Set, Nina Ball; lighting/projections, Lucas Krech; costumes, Valera Coble; props, Chelsea Pegram; stage manager/sound, Hannah Birch Carl. Opened Sept. 24, 2011, reviewed Sept. 29. Running time: 100 MIN.Paulie Patrick Alparone Antonio Keith Burkland Catherine Catherine Castellanos Taylor Cindy Im Olibia Trish MulhollandProbably the most conventional play Adam Bock has premiered in the Bay Area before or since his move to NY City, "Phaedra" spells out its source loud and clear in the title. But what's on stage is a distinctly contemporary spin that diverges considerably from the blueprints provided by Euripedes, Racine and others. Rose Riordan's Shotgun production offers a compelling work that could still stand fleshing out; at present, Bock raises more issues than he truly explores, making for an evening that's tersely involving but doesn't have much emotional resonance given the eventual extremity of acts committed. It's certainly a far cry from the brightly absurdist constructs this playwright established himself ("Five Flights," "The Thugs," "The Typographer's Dream"), or even the compressed semi-realism of "The Shaker Chair." Here everything is as straightforwardly readable as the tasteful beige decor of Nina Ball's posh two-floor suburban home interior: At first glance we grasp it's a stage set for people role-playing (and/or fighting) some stilted, inorganic notion of privileged propriety. Descending the stairs from bedrooms to livingroom like a California-moderne Elizabeth Taylor circa 1972 is Catherine (Catherine Castellanos), who controls every detail of this sterile environ even as she seems strangled by it. The love has long gone from her marriage to conservative judge Antonio (Keith Burkland), a pompous windbag; offering some semblance of bustling everyday life is gabby English housekeeper Olibia (Trish Mulholland, channeling Hermione Gingold). But the dead air in this domestic mausoleum is stirred by prodigal son Paulie (Patrick Alparone), a troubled youth on probation from a drug rehab program. He's determined to start afresh this time; but dad is condescendingly doubtful, Catherine imperially disapproving. (Olibia aside, Paulie's sole ally is a jaded recovery buddy played with terrific comic disdain by Cindy Im.) Why his stepmom is being so hostile is revealed just before intermission, when she makes a late-night confession sure to screw with his head and bring disaster upon all. Often cast in raucous working-class parts, Castellanos lends her central figure a glacial, studied elegance that is its own gilded cage. Yet vivid as she and the other players are, we don't quite buy the grotesque passion Catherine hides for Paulie, or its catastrophic consequences, as more than tragic contrivance. This "Phaedra" could well portend that key revelation at greater leisure, develop Paulie's hapless character further, and expand upon the political commentary implicit in Antonio's boorish arbiter of "justice." The show doesn't feel rushed (oddly, the thing that works least in Riordan's assured staging are a few mannered "slo-mo" movement passages), but it plays a tad thinner than it should. Design contributions are astute, with particularly evocative input from Lucas Krech's subtle lighting and projections. Contact the Variety newsroom at

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