Off-Broadway Theater Review: COLLISION (Rattlestick Playwrights Theater)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on January 22, 2013

in Theater-New York


The Amoralists’ staging of Lyle Kessler’s new play Collision, directed by David Fofi, is an admirable but flawed effort to explore the motivations of a young white middle-class cult leader and his followers. Featuring dialogue packed with popular Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of Amoralists' COLLISION at Rattlestick Off-Broadwayphilosophical notions and a main character who, in spirit at least, could be a personage out of Dostoyevsky’s The Devils, Collision aims pretty high. Unfortunately, as often happens in these instances – when a playwright crams too much philosophy into one show – the drama doesn’t quite support the ideas.

Grange (James Kautz), a college student, brilliant and fearless, is a shrewd manipulator who flouts society’s conventions and lives by his own set of rules. As soon as he arrives in his college dorm room, half of which is already occupied by his future roommate Bromley (played with startling sincerity by Nick Lawson), Grange goes to work subjugating the boy to his will. This isn’t very difficult; Bromley is a nice guy but doesn’t have much character. Socially awkward and lonely, he finds himself easily seduced by Grange’s audacity and radically different way of looking at the world.

Before long Grange attracts two more followers, Doe (the always compelling Anna Stromberg), a kind but lost student in need of a father figure, and Professor Denton (Michael Cullen), a philosophy teacher and drunk who’s lost everything that was Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of Amoralists' COLLISION at Rattlestick Off-Broadwayimportant to him. In a sense Grange leads his disciples on a journey of self-discovery, videotaping a great deal of it, and although we might not know how all this will end, we’re pretty sure right off that it will not end well. (Rounding out the cast is Craig ‘muMs’ Grant in a remarkably naturalistic performance as Renel.)

There are a number of good dramatic ideas in Collision. In the first scene Grange manipulates Bromley into giving him the bed closest to the door, even though Bromley, having arrived first to their dorm room, has already chosen that bed for himself. Grange’s next big manipulation occurs immediately after he has sex with Doe, when he encourages her to have sex with Bromley (who, unbeknownst to Doe, was in the adjacent bed the whole time pretending to be asleep). At first Doe is outraged. But Grange persuades her by telling her, essentially, to break free of society’s restrictions, demands and expectations, and to open herself up to anything and everything.

Unfortunately, whereas Grange’s mind game with Bromley is revelatory and dynamic, his arguments to Doe are pedestrian. In reality they may very well work on a lost, approval-seeking young girl with low self-esteem and father issues, but Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of Amoralists' COLLISION at Rattlestick Off-Broadwaydramatically they aren’t enough. What he says to her is not interesting; it feels more like filler to achieve an end as opposed to something alive within itself. Grange’s seduction of the professor, although strong in concept, in execution feels similarly convenient. In fact much of what happens in the show has the sense of a foregone conclusion.

Another problem is that Grange lacks charisma. If anything he’s repulsive and irritating. This choice might work if there were a character in the play who finds him so; one man’s irritant is another man’s prophet. Unfortunately the audience doesn’t have such an advocate, one who sees Grange as we do and tells him he’s full of crap. This makes it dramatically necessary for us to be seduced by Grange. We are not. To add to the frustration, everything happens exactly as Grange intends; it’s as if the writer is in league with the character.

Although Mr. Kessler appears to be making an honest effort to create a play which explores serious existential and philosophical ideas, morality, causality, randomness, God, we’ve heard all these ideas before. We’ve seen Fight Club and Match Point, we’ve read Nietzsche and Camus, and the thoughts and theories Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of Amoralists' COLLISION at Rattlestick Off-Broadwayexpressed in Collision aren’t original or interesting enough to overcome the contrivances in the script.

Nudity in theater is almost always a mistake and unless you’re Lev Dodin or Robert Wilson it’s probably best to avoid it. When Doe finally agrees to have sex with Bromley she drops the blanket she’s wrapped herself in, appearing nude on the stage, then climbs into his bed. This seems to be intended to symbolize her shedding of her inhibitions and of social conventions, her surrendering to Grange, her entering a new level of being, of consciousness, etc. We understand this intellectually. The problem is that nudity on stage has many, perhaps unintended, side effects for the audience. Mr. Fofi might have been trying to get us to see a character bearing her hidden self, and we get that, but what we are seeing is Ms. Stromberg naked, which brings to mind many thoughts that have nothing to do with the play. In fact her nudity is doubly problematic in that its sensationalism overwhelms the drama on the stage when it should enhance it (as it did in Equus).

Initially Collision was billed as a black comedy but shortly before its opening it was changed to a drama; turning this story into an absurd dark comedy might have worked better. There are a number of good things in this show, above all good intentions and a desire to say something meaningful on the part of the playwright. One can see his passion. A few more rewrites and one might feel it, too.

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of Amoralists' COLLISION at Rattlestick Off-BroadwaySet Designer: Alfred Schatz. Lighting Designer: Evan Roby. Costume Designer: Jaime Torres. Sound Designer: Phil Carluzzo.

photos by Russ Rowland

The Amoralists at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
scheduled to end on February 17, 2013
for tickets, call (347) 731-0277 or visit

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of Amoralists' COLLISION at Rattlestick Off-Broadway

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