Written by Chad Beckim
Directed by Stephen Brackett
Written by Dan Klores
Directed by David Bar Katz
Both Mike McAlary
and Monty have beef with the law. The former, a muckracking journalist covering the police beat first for the New York Post
and then the New York Daily News
until his death from cancer at age 41 in 1998, is the subject of Dan Klores' (Little Doc
) unfortunately lifeless biographical play The Wood
at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
(through October 9). The latter, a just-exonerated alleged rapist, treads gently, monosyllabically back into the world at the beginning of Chad Beckim's sorrow-filled comedy After.
having its premiere with Partial Comfort Productions
at the Wild Project
(through October 8). Beckim benefits from director Stephen Brackett's (The Tenant
, Be a Good Little Widow
) sensitive style and a very strong cast, whereas Klores' script and David Bar Katz's direction do disservice to their no doubt capable players.
, whose title refers to the coveted front-page lead headline spot of major daily papers, has all the elements of a gripping story. Motivated both by a desire to regain favor after an unpopular crusade against a woman he believed to be lying about having been raped in Prospect Park, and a selfless need to ferret out the truth for decent New Yorkers' sake, McAlary (John Viscardi) comes to the aid of a Haitian immigrant (Vladimir Versailles) who was wrongfully detained by NYPD officers who then sodomized him using a plunger handle. The reporter's investigation often means skipping chemotherapy treatments for his colon cancer, despite colleagues' and his wife's protestations, so that his pursuit of justice literally kills him.
Yet somehow McAlary's noble race to give a voice to an exceptionally disadvantaged victim and get the Pulitzer (which he does) before dying never gains the momentum that it seems it ought to possess inherently. Scenes are too short, set changes much too cumbersome, undermining any sense of closeness between characters and sapping the plentiful dynamism that the narrative offers. McAlary is literally wounded—by the Prospect Park rape fiasco, by a car crash that left him in a coma, and now fatally by cancer—but Viscardi only registers that hurt and desperation in the final moments. Meanwhile Klores, enamored with recent newspaper history, provides a great deal of expository newsman shop talk that does little but stymy the front-page story supposedly developing before our very eyes.
on the other hand dashes along a razor sharp edge between dark comedy and straight-up darkness. Monty (Alfredo Narciso) broods while very slowly (imperceptibly at first) warming to his DNA testing-enabled freedom, too slowly for his eager-to-help sister (Maria-Christina Oliveras) and could-be girlfriend Susie (the outstanding Jackie Chung). His scenes with well-meaning prison preacher Chap (Andrew Garman) have the warm familiarity of a 17-year friendship that could easily erupt from sublimated anger. And even Debargo Sanyal, who plays Monty's pet shop co-worker and seems poised early on to steal the entire show, hones in his incredible comic stylings to match the script's increasingly dire tone. For every passage of painfully funny comedy Beckim finds a scene of intensely painful drama, and the unpredictability of their sequencing makes for visceral moments of both welcome and frightful surprise.
Whereas McAlary seeks to play the hero and expose authority's corruption, Monty has little interest in the system's six-figure admission of its mistake. The Wood
's police beat procedural musters none of the milieu's pleasures, and even Versailles acting his heart out can't give Klores' play a pulse. After.
, despite its protagonist's tight-lipped demeanor, brims with energy, and its drastic shifts in mood and pacing remain unpredictable almost to the abrupt end. While Klores' newsman drama fails to make headlines, Beckim finds hard-won promise after prison.
(Photos: Yindy Vatanavan, Sandra Coudert)