Fringeworthy

Hip Shot: Malevolence

Malevolence promo image – hand on back of teenager's head in a classroom

Main Stage – Goethe Institut

Remaining Performances:

Tuesday, July 15 at 8:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 19 at 2:15 p.m.
Wednesday, July 23 at 8:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 27 at 4:30 p.m.

They say: An accusation is made: a student against a well-liked teacher. Is he innocent? Is he guilty? A drama that will make you think and rethink.

Brett's Take: Just because a question is open doesn't mean it's interesting. The blurb would suggest that this is Doubt for the public school system, but there's little doubt on hand. The choices Timothy R. King's original script makes – such as which character to focus on and what we learn about another character's motivations – give the game away long before the short clips (filmed by Randy Philipp) that are projected onscreen between scenes do.

Still, mystery isn't required for a play on this topic to be incisive or thought-provoking; there's still plenty of human drama available to mine in this too-familiar kind of story. King (who also directs) draws out some affecting moments of dawning horror from Mitch Irzinski as the accused teacher Rob Todt, as his home and work lives collapse around him. Jacinda Bronaugh as Rob's principal gives an admirably full portrayal of a caring but rules-bound administrator in her two main scenes. And the two teenage characters (Jane Gibbins-Harding as Sara, the student, and Brittany Morgan as Rob's daughter) are both written and played sensitively; King is a middle school teacher, so it should not be a surprise that he can capture the intelligence and heart of these young people realistically.

However, the genuine character moments get lost amidst a histrionic downward spiral that only becomes more and more predictable and more and more morally black-and-white as the show goes on. After the third or fourth interstitial film clip showing Irzinski's face grimacing, the play doesn't have anything new or insightful to say about his unhappy predicament, and it has already abandoned delving into Sara's story any further, presumably to preserve the mystery. We shuffle forward to the conclusion we expect and then are left with an image that's intended to be difficult to leave behind, but instead comes off as pretentious and imitative of other tragic works. In these final moments, we end up getting cheated out of the one chance for a long-awaited, really provocative confrontation, in favor of an easy out, dramaturgically speaking.

It doesn't help that it feels like a third of the play is spent in scene changes. These switchovers appear to have been paced slowly deliberately, with long quiet pauses between actors getting in place and the lights coming up. (By contrast, a couple hiccups with the projections seem accidental, and will presumably be ironed out by the next showing.) Since most of the scenes are quite brief, with little room for the characters to reveal themselves beyond their current alignment vis-à-vis Rob's accusation or to deliever exposition, the effect is to make the hourlong play feel almost plodding. This story should have been tense and woolly with complications, but instead it is slack and straightforward.

See it if: You love to see committed actors fleshing out characters.

Skip it if: You'd want a rape-accusation story to offer more depth than you could surmise from a couple of news clippings.

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