It takes a script

Despite strong performances, Global Village doesn't connect all the emotional dots

There's one moment in Global Village, the Actors' Stock Company world premiere by playwright-collaborator Tom Grady, that arrives just before intermission and knocks the breath right out of you. I won't be so thoughtless as to reveal it here. Suffice to say it's the culmination of a slow tragicomic buildup that relays how a married couple (David Stroh and Celise Moreau) flounder in their attempts to recover after their son has been fatally shot while the family vacations in Egypt.

Indeed, the whole excellent first act--which begins with another eye-opener, a videotaped shocker perpetrated by a despondent politician (Tom Lenaghen)--can be seen as both skillful character study and gradually accumulating dark mood that's released when actor Stroh, playing the devastated father, attempts to restore his loss in a most poignant way. His weeping as the lights fade pulses under your skin like little electric charges all through the rest of the evening.

The sorrowful, bumpy journey of Sam (Stroh) and Linda (Moreau) registers strongly with the audience, as does the separate but soon-to-be-intertwined relationship between Bailey (Darren Brett), a cavalier painter of questionable talent, and Cheryl (Melanie Stroh), an art gallery hanger-on who sees him as her ticket to fame. Theirs is a comic counterpoint relationship to Sam and Linda's, and both couples are sent on wild journeys by acts of creation. Sam and Linda follow their kid into life-changing tragedy, while Bailey tosses off a painting that's sold by self-appointed agent Cheryl, generating huge and probably undeserved buzz about the artist in the New York City art world.

Bailey has garnered this acclaim by using blood from the aforementioned politician's tragedy in his painting, but he's hard-pressed to repeat the shock value of that act to keep the buyers coming. Meanwhile, he hires Sam to redo his empty, echoing artist's loft and discovers that there is a tragedy in the man's recent past. You've probably already guessed what that accidental meeting will lead to.

Global Village is the Dallas swan song for director and Actors Stock Company founder Keith Oncale, who's headed to New York to pursue both teaching and stage-directing jobs. He has corralled his actors into expressing themselves in two distinct modes--an acid comedy corroding art-world pretensions ("This painting," says wannabe high-powered agent Cheryl, "is not about content, it's about the absence of content") and a muted, living-room despair when parents must decide what to do with their dead child's clothes and toys. He and his talented actors maintain these parallel tracks impressively throughout the first act, but when the lights come up on the second, playwright Tom Grady has fudged a bit on what we're hoping will be a similarly inexorable lead-up to a confrontation between an opportunistic artist and grieving parents. Bailey has leapt right into a project about Mike and Linda's dead son with little explanation about how the apathetic artist learned about their loss and what he went through to incorporate it as subject matter. A finished painting more or less begins the second act. Similarly, we experience Mike as crazy with outrage over Bailey's co-optation, but don't get the benefit of witnessing his graduation from crippling sorrow to gun-wielding rage.

The first part of Global Village works up a slow, suspenseful lather, bringing the destinations of Mike and Linda and Bailey and Cheryl together, but then they are thrown together into face-offs that feel abrupt, unearned. The character who makes the most discernable growth here is Bailey, rescued from laissez-faire hostility to conviction at the realization of his own exploitative tendencies. Darren Brett does wonders with a quiet performance, able to be first glib and then deeply touched without a lot of pyrotechnics.

The other three are equally impressive, but you can't help but feel the playwright has cheated them and us with an improperly paced resolution to issues of scorching personal import. Global Village contains laughter and tears that feel more authentic than the ones you usually get from such a young playwright; a reconsideration of the play's truncated second act would further authenticate Tom Grady's obvious gifts with dialogue and subtly converging moods.

Global Village runs through February 27. Call (214) 353-9916.

Banter

Love's labor lost
Magruder-Stock-Birkenhead's musical version of Marivaux's 18th-century garden romp of deceit, Triumph of Love, ran for just over two months on Broadway in late 1997, unexpectedly short for an expensive songfest that boasted F. Murray Abraham, Betty Buckley, and Susan Birkenhead, the lyricist of Jelly's Last Jam. The general critical and audience reception was somewhere between this pull quote from the New Yorker--"The kind of show that makes people want to come to this city--be in the theater, go to the theater, talk about the theater!" and the opinion of my own favorite, unsparingly honest Internet Broadway critic, Christina D'Angelo (talkinbroadway.com). She groused that the show is "a yawn of a yarn that attempts a cerebral dirty froth and flounders. The only triumph was that we stayed awake."

Call off your dogs, Christie! Although the show nabbed a Tony nomination for Fort Worth fave Buckley, the disappointment drove her Off-Broadway and into the arms of a Nicky Silver show called The Eros Trilogy, where she currently languishes playing three different demented mothers.

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