Off-Broadway Theater Review: ONE NIGHT… (Cherry Lane Theater)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on November 20, 2013

in Theater-New York

NOTHING IF NOT INTENSE

The night their shelter burns down, two homeless Iraqi war veterans, Horace and Alicia, both suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, are given vouchers to stay the night in a seedy motel, where they are menaced by past horrors and villains from the present. Such is the premise of Charles Fuller’s well-intentioned One Night…, a compelling issue play that aims to dramatize the plight of soldiers and veterans in this country.

K.K. Moggie, Rutina Wesley and Grantham Coleman in ONE NIGHT... a co-production of Cherry Lane and Rattlestick Playwrights TheaterOne Night… is a serious play. We know this because except for the excellent Cortez Nance Jr.—whose infusions of subtle humor and menace into his character Meny, the motel owner, make that personage the most substantial and interesting presence in the show—everyone in the play is very serious all the time. And very loud, with the two capable leads contorting faces and bodies to express the terrors their characters feel as they deal with big issues: war, PTSD, rape, and institutionalized male chauvinism, just to name a few. And that does carry weight, like the experience of a drill instructor yelling in your face carries weight, because even if what he is saying isn’t particularly interesting or insightful, it’s hard not to pay attention and be moved by it. It also makes a critic reluctant to find fault; that’s like trying to critique that same drill instructor, whom you know also to devote his free time to volunteering in soup kitchens and coaching orphans in little league.

Rutina Wesley and K.K. Moggie in ONE NIGHT... a co-production of Cherry Lane and Rattlestick Playwrights TheaterBut faults there are, unfortunately, and plenty of them. To say that Mr. Fuller’s writing and Clinton Turner Davis’s directing are heavy-handed would be an understatement; it feels like they’re both screaming trying to make every point. And yet we learn nothing in this play that we haven’t already seen on TV. Alicia (Rutina Wesley), the main character, is not only traumatized to the point of visual hallucinations—essentially schizophrenia—by the death and carnage she saw in the war, but it seems like every awful thing that could possibly happen to a female soldier and veteran was gathered into a bucket and dumped on her head. Not only is this unbelievable but it blurs the focus of the play, making it less about the hell that service-persons must deal with and more about this one extraordinarily, fantastically unlucky woman (the hallucinations are personified by K.K. Moggi and Matthew Montelongo, who play a variety of characters).

Grantham Coleman and Matthew Montelongo in ONE NIGHT... a co-production of Cherry Lane and Rattlestick Playwrights TheaterWhen Horace (Grantham Coleman) has flashbacks, night vision video war footage (by Gil Sperling) is projected onto the walls. Not only is this superfluous and ineffective, but it drowns out Mr. Coleman’s acting. Except for two or three tiny comedic moments at the very beginning, there is no reprieve from the misery of this couple’s existence. Dramatically this is not very interesting and it doesn’t ring true. There are elements introduced in One Night… that are left undeveloped, we learn too much too soon about characters and events, “revelations” are telegraphed from miles away, and the ending feels unsatisfying both thematically and in terms of its logic.

Still, with John McDermott’s authentic-looking set, Nicole Pearce’s evocative lighting and Sean O’Halloran’s sound, the show is an experience–and an intense one at that. This highly professional production certainly keeps your attention. The actors are game and dig deep. And it tackles, or attempts to tackle, important subjects. So if lack of insight, nuance, subtlety and humor are not a problem for you, One Night… will be worth a look.

Rutina Wesley and Grantham Coleman in ONE NIGHT... a co-production of Cherry Lane and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater

photos © Sandra Coudert

One Night…
Cherry Lane Theater and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
Cherry Lane Theater
scheduled to end on December 15, 2013
for tickets, call 212 989-2020 or visit Cherry Lane

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