This undated theater image released by DARR Publicity shows, from left, Nick Lawson, Michael Cullen, James Kautz and Anna Stromberg, in a scene from “Collision” performing off-Broadway at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in New York. (AP photo/DARR Publicity, Russ Rowland)
NEW YORK (AP) — Apparently, some people can be easily persuaded to arm themselves and take aim at the world.
That’s the premise of the edgy but disappointing “Collision,” written by Lyle Kessler and directed by David Fofi, which opened Tuesday night in a world premiere by The Amoralists at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.
No compelling reason is presented onstage as to why this group of three unhappy college students, a jaded professor and an illegal gun dealer end up as Kessler has decided.
It’s absolutely unclear why the students and professor would be compelled to go on a heavily-armed rampage, and kill either themselves or other people, or both. The cast does their best with their shallowly-written roles, and Fofi has created a lively staging.
It seems like poor timing to present this pointlessly violent play just now, in light of recent mass shootings and the heated national gun control debate. Kessler’s script presents nothing of use on the subject of gun violence, and shines no light on how ordinary people decide to do terrible things to other people. There’s a lot of uninformed yakking by various characters about God abandoning them. The students all had unhappy childhoods. Boo-hoo-hoo.
The play should have remained a “black comedy,” as it was originally billed, but for reasons known only to The Amoralists, it’s now billed as a drama. It’s simply not successful as a serious drama, although it would have worked well as a black comedy.
The motivating force that brings these five people together and points them toward a dark destiny is a manipulative, narcissistic young malcontent named Grange, played with maniacal zeal by James Kautz. Nick Lawson is excellently broody and appealing, for a while, as insecure, pliable loner Bromley, who has the bad luck to be Grange’s dormitory roommate. The third student is bright, sad Doe, (sweetly enacted by Anna Stromberg), also too easily manipulated by the sadistic Grange.
Michael Cullen is both confident and pliable as alcoholic, middle-aged Professor Denton, the only character here who makes any sense about why he’s genuinely depressed. He makes an interesting speech about God and Death that is almost comical, saying that he sees Death “in the most unlikely places, in a baby’s face, in a bride’s demeanor.”
So many events in the play seem satirical rather than dramatically credible, like Denton’s speeches or when Grange orders Bromley to hit Denton and the big lug just does it, bashing away like a cartoon character on command. Then they all hug and become friends and get stoned together with Doe, and plan to live “happily ever after.”
But Grange, who films all their interactions while claiming he’s making a movie that will be “half documentary, half fiction,” has other plans. When he buys them all guns from a criminal named Renel (played with simple relish by Craig ‘muMs’ Grant) and goads them into hatred, the inevitable ending of the play becomes clear, but even at just 100 minutes in total, it takes much too long to get there.