Greed and a good heart sit at the negotiating table in Israel Horovitz’s Compromise — something that might have been nice at Enron but seems a bit contrived here. On the other hand, the play, which addresses ethical quandaries grand and small and looks at both social issues and the technology that can make us even more insular than our preoccupations do, is one of Horovitz’s most considered. It began life four years ago at his home-base Gloucester Stage Company as promises.com and has since been revised — something critics often wish would happen to the prolific playwright’s oft provocative but dashed-off works. Here, however, the parallels seem almost too schematic, and long-brewing tensions come to a head as abruptly as foam on beer.
Aaron Keyes is a Manhattan neurologist who has spent his career as a researcher; right now, after decades of work, he’s on the brink of a breakthrough with something called Q2, which will regenerate the Myelin on nerve fibers. He intends to offer this discovery as a "gift to the world" via the Internet, a plan his acquisitive African-American thirtysomething assistant, neurology fellow Thomas Wall, labels a "garage-funky-hippie-dippie saintly thing" that should be trumped by Thomas’s own proposal to auction the drug via the Internet to the highest corporate bidder. Then, he argues, Aaron can become a philanthropist to his heart’s content and usher family and friends — present company included — to Easy Street.
Meanwhile, Thomas’s mom, Alice, who in a benign echo of Horovitz’s Park Your Car in Harvard Yard happens to be Aaron’s housekeeper of 26 years, has a moral dilemma of her own. She has mixed up two Lottery tickets, one of them hers, the other purchased for two girlfriends, and, when one wins, she doesn’t know whether to keep or split the money. It’s a decision whose degree of difficulty is upped by the fact that the saintly Alice, a compulsive buyer of gifts for the sick and needy, is in hock to Toys "R" Us for $4100.
This confluence of events brings to the surface Thomas’s long-held anger at both high-minded elders, "hypocrites" whom he feels have neglected their families in favor of Humanity. Cases in point: Aaron’s estranged wife, Maddie, who is in a Boston hospital dying from complications of alcoholism while her husband waxes sloppy but doesn’t visit, and his daughter Rebecca, who’s holed up in New Hampshire writing bad poems and interacting with the rest of the play’s dysfunctional blended family by Instant Messenger. Hence Compromise’s multimedia gimmick: the remote if bereft Aaron communicates best with a camera, recording chapters of a video diary during which we see both the live actor and his looming screen image; and all of the IM dialogue with Becca, who’s curled up in sweats behind a scrim, is projected as supertitles riddled with the cozy shorthand, skimming affection, and typos typical of keyboard communication.
Although Horovitz plays to the cliché of the scientist who realizes too late that he’s sacrificed more than his own needs to the Great Work ("I don’t know how to live. I’m a scientist," Aaron tells Alice), he raises interesting questions about priorities and the title net we may not even know we weave — not to mention asking whether the Web has brought us together or allowed us to hunker apart. And though he shortchanges Becca, he creates in Aaron a complex sketch of ’60s values, intellectual smugness, and regret. Moreover, Thomas’s point — that it’s easier to be noble when you’ve not known real need — is worth listening to, particularly in a society where nobility on the part of the "haves" is going the way of the dodo. But though much is going on beneath Compromise’s interplay of small talk, science drama, Horovitzian word play, and true confession, the play’s sudden lurches from implied or atrophied emotion to melodramatic arias of rage or vodka-induced howls of pain seem (like its pretentiously Mind of God–evoking conclusion) unearned.
This is especially true in Michael Morris’s production for Gloucester Stage, which aims for a casual, melancholy naturalism, despite the projections and the plopped-on anguish. Soundsmith Bradley Royds drapes the proceedings in Bach and somber horns. Set designer Jenna McFarland has scoured the countryside (well, the White Elephant shop in Essex) for enough clutter to dress Aaron’s aptly lived-in absent-minded-professor’s study. And the actors, when not moved to bursts of oration or emotion, go for a tender offhandedness that bespeaks the characters’ long association. Barbara Poitier, as the steady, sometimes scathing Alice, seems especially bent on subtlety, though Kevin Daniels’s calculating Thomas bristles with charisma. All four performers are competent, and they go with the flow of this ambitious if pat new work even when Horovitz hasn’t put in all the pipes.
Issue Date: July 30 - August 5, 2004
Back to the Theater table of contents
|© 2000 - 2013 Phoenix Media Communications Group|