Curtain Call: "The Agony and the Agony"

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Congratulate Evolution Theatre Company for becoming the most recent addition to CAPA's roster of resident arts organizations. Then wonder why ETC was unable to present a stronger production than Nicky Silver's The Agony and the Agony to take advantage of that honor.

Silver's comedy finds blocked playwright Richard Aglow finally ready to start writing a play about once-famous 1920s murderer Nathan Leopold (as in Leopold and Loeb).

The gay Aglow lives in a marriage of financial convenience with the rich but unemployed actress Lela, who is, in turn, having an affair with the hunky but vacuous Chet, who is trying to get money from Lela to support his pregnant wife Anita.

Actor Chet dreams of playing the horse Nugget in Equus and Lela hopes to land the role of Blanche in slimy producer Anton Knight's new mounting of Streetcar. Both Chet and Lela plot to fulfill those aspirations by seducing the sexually ambiguous Knight. Got all that? Because that's not just the whole story, that's also about as far as Silver takes anything.

Along the way, Silver feeds his characters knowing quips and sometimes clever banter. Those require pinpoint direction and precise comic timing. Director David Radames Toro keeps things moving, but can't draw that precision from enough of his cast.

Two of the actors nail it. As Lela, Kristina Kopf has the comic pacing of a pro, shooting off the quick witticisms and priming the audience for her punch lines. Krista Stauffer inhabits the character of the seen-it-all Anita as though she was born to it. Just watch her tell the audience about how creepy she found Equus because there was so much talking directly to the audience.

Dapper Kevin O'Rourke Jr. wanders in and out as Leopold, but gives us no more clues about why he's been written into this play than Silver does. Jacob Browning acquits himself well as the dumb but hung Chet. He really does get excited about those horses. Richard Napoli feels too laid-back for the high-powered Knight.

To see and hear him, Mark Phillips Schwamberger appears ideal for Aglow: wispy and fidgety, natural in pajamas and robe, an urbanely weary voice. Actually, he captures Aglow's rhythms only fitfully, but succeeds in convincing us that this is a guy in need of a support group for people addicted to support groups.

Also unfortunate was Agony's placement in the Riffe Studio One, much too large a venue for this small-scale production. Nice to see that the rest of ETC's 2009-10 season will be at CAPA's new digs in the former Brownstone on Main.

"The Agony and the Agony"

When: Through Oct. 17

Where: Riffe Center Studio One Theatre, Downtown