Story: An American physician, an Irish journalist and an English academic find themselves unwillingly sharing the same tiny cell after each of them is captured by unseen terrorists and held hostage in Lebanon. With only a chair, a Bible and a Quran for diversions, the chained prisoners are left to conversations in which they can recount their lives as well as dream of better days ahead, hoping against reality for freedom from their private hell while clinging desperately to sanity.
Highlights: First produced in 1992, Someone Who’ll Watch over Me was written by prolific Irish playwright Frank McGuinness and is receiving its St. Louis premiere as the opening production of R-S Theatrics’ fourth season. It’s a tasty little tidbit that allows actors to flex their thespian muscles, something that director Ryan Foizey brings to the fore in three finely crafted performances by Paul Cereghino, Mark Kelley and Todd Micali.
Other Info: Someone Who’ll Watch over Me also is tedious and repetitive to the point of quiet exasperation. That’s the fault of the script, not the R-S Theatrics production. It’s a bit of a cross between Waiting for Godot and No Exit, while largely devoid of the existential humor of the former.
Foizey sets this presentation in the round, but there really isn’t a good reason for that. In fact, on opening night folks at the far end of the set moved after intermission to another, more accessible angle for viewing what goings-on there might be.
The two-act play plows through very familiar territory without making any startling or provocative revelations. It’s your basic prisoner-held-by-unseen-forces story. In fact, within the last year another, similar tale, Nine, was performed by Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble in the same venue.
So, devoid of any substantive plot apart from the prisoners knowing that any emotional outbursts will be dealt with harshly, we’re left with character development. In this regard, Foizey’s cast shines.
Performances by all three players are poignant and deftly calibrated as each thinks wistfully to highlights in his life prior to his imprisonment for unknown reasons, or explodes with abrupt rage at the unfairness of his predicament.
There are moments when McGuinness’ skills as a poet shine through as well. A scene in which the trio each ‘writes’ a letter to a loved one while stretched out side by side by side offers a vestige of optimism that they can transcend this private hell of endless tedium.
Another, especially affecting scene marks the conclusion of the first act so effectively that it could, for all intents and purposes, serve as a fitting ending to the story itself. While there are developments in the second act not telegraphed in advance, the play could end satisfactorily after the first act with no decline in quality.
Kyra Bishop’s scenic design features a drab, dark square upon which all of the ‘action’ occurs, beneath the lonely illumination of a single, stark light bulb placed too high for the characters to pull its switch. Nathan Schroeder’s lighting design provides the steady, oppressive assault of that harsh bulb, with some subtle variations at more poignant scenes.
Ruth Schmelenberger adds the curious costume design, which features the flag of each man’s origin sewn onto tattered shirts that become more forlorn from act to act, and Kelley adds a melancholy sound design. Daniel Thomas Blackwell as dialect coach is responsible for the Irish and English accents.
As an exercise in the craft of acting, Someone Who’ll Watch over Me pays rich dividends, thanks to director Foizey and performers Cereghino, Kelley and Micali. As a satisfying story, or even a sobering one with a strong message, it’s held hostage to its own enervating constraints.
Play: Someone Who’ll Watch over Me
Company: R-S Theatrics
Venue: The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive
Dates: June 26, 27, 28, 29
Tickets: $12-$20; contact 456-0071 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Michael Young