Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review - To Whom It May Concern (The Entertainment Agora)

Review by Byrne Harrison
Photos by Sanford Kaplan

No one is quite who he appears to be in Aurin Squire's Internet romance, To Whom It May Concern. Lillian, a sexy 17 year old cheerleader, is really just Lorenzo (Israel Gutierrez), a shy, gay 15-year-old living in the middle of Kansas. Maurice Creely (Matt Alford), a Marine lionized in the media for saving an Afghani mother and her small child after an ambush, is just a scared kid who was saved from doing something horrible by being in the right place at the right time. The one thing they share is a crushing loneliness.

When Lorenzo reads about the heroic young Marine, he recognizes, or possibly just hopes he sees, in Maurice a kindred spirit. In the fit of boyish crush, Lorenzo writes a gushing fan letter to Maurice and sends him some homemade cookies. Not quite ready to risk humiliation, he signs the letter L.L. Maurice is touched by the gift and the attention, and assuming that L.L. is a girl, he writes back. This begins a romance between Lillian, Lorenzo's alter-ego, and Maurice. As the letters turn to e-mails, and the e-mails to instant messaging, Maurice begins to fall in love with his mysterious dream girl. He falls so hard that he takes two weeks' leave and travels to Abilene, Kansas to surprise Lillian by sneaking naked into her bed in the middle of the night.

Needless to say, both Lorenzo and Maurice are in for a surprise.

It is at this point, when the two characters come face to face, that the play requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief. Lorenzo pretends to be Lillian's brother in order to keep Maurice in his room, but Maurice puts two and two together and realizes that he's been had. After the obligatory threats of violence and near discovery by Lorenzo's parents, the two begin talking about themselves. Lorenzo tells of abuse at the hands of his homophobic father. Maurice talks about the infamous newspaper story. In fits and starts, a friendship of sorts replaces the fantasy of the online relationship. From the audience's standpoint however, this new relationship is the one that feels artificial. It allows playwright Aurin Squire a chance to tackle some weighty subjects - homophobia, the war, loneliness, being who others want to you be, but it just never rings quite true.

Both Matt Alford and Israel Gutierrez do well in their roles, more so during their online romance. Alford's Maurice is equal parts horndog and romantic, with an extra helping of boyish charm. Gutierrez is good as the shy and bullied Lorenzo, especially as he begins to blossom during the unaccustomed freedom given to him by his alter-ego. During his bedroom scenes with Maurice, however, Lorenzo seems too mature and knowing for a 15-year-old boy. While some of this may be how the character is written and certainly is due to his dialogue, Gutierrez and director David Gaard could have done more to mitigate it.

Gaard does good work during the epistolary sections of the play, allowing a realistic ebb and flow to the scenes. Hemmed in by the necessity of having both characters writing on their computers, he nonetheless allows Gutierrez opportunites to act like a rambunctious teenager. It would have been nice to see more freedom of motion from Maurice. The later face-to-face scenes have a tentativeness to them that is at odds with the script. Anger, whether the anger of being made a fool of or the anger at being handed a life that seems completely unfair, can't be tentative and still be effective.

Although it has its faults, To Whom It May Concern is a thoughtful and thought-provoking play.

To Whom It May Concern
Written by Aurin Squire
Directed by David Gaard
Setting by Bruce Eyster
Lighting by Erich Loetterle
Costumes by Michele Reisch
Military Advisor for Costumes: CWO-2 (Gunner) Michael Clark
Stage Manager: Pamela Gittlitz
Production Stage Manager: Pamela Gittlitz
Assistant Stage Managers: Carmelo Ferro, Nicholas Reilly
Press Relations: Scotti Rhodes
Marketing and Promotion: Hugh Hysell, HHC Communications
Staff Photographer: Sanford Kaplan
Graphics Director: Bruce Eyster
Technical Director: Erich Loetterle
Production Assistants: Danny Birks, Elias Serrano
House Manager: Anthony McMullen

Featuring: Matt Alford (Maurice A. Creely), Israel Gutierrez (Lorenzo Lafarhoff), Carmelo Ferro (u/s Maurice), Nicholas Reilly (u/s Lorenzo)

Arclight Theatre
152 W. 71st Street

For tickets call 212-352-3101 or 866-811-4111

Wednesday-Saturday 8 PM, Sunday at 3 PM
March 25 - April 12