An 8 year old girl has gone missing near a lake in a wooded area. A plumber by trade and self-appointed neighborhood guardian, Phil has collared troubled teen Jamie, and dragged him into a nearby deserted toolshed for questioning. Phil spotted Jamie near where the girl was last seen, but his suspicion of the young man stems more from their previous experience. To gain a clear upper hand, Phil takes the drastic step of tying Jamie to a chair in an effort to extract a confession. Hearing cries for help, erudite professor Ethan barges onto the scene and into the conversation.
Playwright Matt Williams uses this triad to explore how personal endangerment affects action in his new aptly titled work Fear. As events unfold, each one of these people holds onto a strong conviction that he is on the side of what is right, not only in regards to the current potential wrongdoing but in their world view. The three characters aren’t particularly original, but their relationships to one another is sophisticatedly developed. As new background information is revealed, alliances between the three shift, along with the loyalty of the audience. Williams’ experience in television comedy comes through in the heavy dose of explanation in the show’s opening moments. There are also occasional splashes of jokes that come on a little strong, though they each provide a pleasant moment to breathe between psychological stabs. As in life, everyone here is an unreliable narrator, with truth getting lost in perception and self defense.
The show literally starts with a bang as Ethan and Jamie struggle through the doorway letting it slam behind them. There are many other moments that beg us to lean forward. Director Tea Alagić keeps the pressure high by containing her characters in a small dusty and chaotic space designed by Andrew Boyce. D.M. Wood’s harsh lighting adds to the desired mood with Jane Shaw’s sound adding aural punctuation. All three actors are excellent, with Obi Abili’s Ethan particularly drawing us in with his tension-filled whispers. Enrico Colantoni gives Phil appropriate swagger tinged with a touch of menace as he vividly recalls episodes he has witnessed. Though we come to understand that Jamie is socially awkward and learning disabled, the potential for him to develop a fully sympathetic side is lost in Alexander Garfin’s jittery performance. This may be a weakness of his lines rather than his acting ability.
By settling for easily recognizable characters instead of digging deeper, Fear falls short of making a lasting impression But it does illustrate in shorthand how anyone is capable of becoming what they most loath in an attempt to save what they most love. Though the opportunity for lasting impact is blunted, these actors bring their A Game and keep us engaged throughout the play. This world premiere has a limited run through December 8 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street.) Runtime is 80 minutes without intermission. Tickets are $65- $89 and can be purchased by visiting FearthePlay.com or by calling (866) 811-4111.