James Frey, Margaret Seltzer, and now,
The play begins with the time-honored dividing of possessions that occurs during the first stages of a breakup. Suh’s stumbling movements and sarcastic, whiny attitude are the picture of arrested development. Disheveled and disoriented, he attempts to pull himself together fast enough to convince Maya to stay. He claims never to have liked people in the first place, that Maya was the only one who understood him, who could lighten him up a little. As Maya, Barrel is terrific at conveying, simply in her face, just how hard this must have been. The creases next to Maya’s eyes, the twitching in her lips, the way her brows scrunch instinctively as she gathers her belongings, listening to Silas’s pleas for her to stay, wordlessly suggests just how much pressure this is for her. As Silas talks, despite his attempts to be funny (“Who cares about Steppenwolf anyway?”) the movements in Maya’s face suggests years of bottled-up tension as the result of being both his girlfriend and his surrogate therapist.
With Maya gone, Silas refuses to leave his apartment, and writes stories he claims are based on his own experiences of abuse, and cancer, and jail. The cluttered, dusty set, with its beaten-up furniture, clothing strewn around the floor and dishes festering in the sink, enhances the sense that Silas has entered his own world, one which follows none of the rules of cleanliness and order that applied when he lived with Maya. The only only object treated with respect is his computer, which he uses to write stories involving his supposedly troubled past. The alchemy of the short story turns these horrific events into something, relateable even marketable, and soon a hotshot young agent named Derrick is outside his window, shouting to the shut-in writer about book deals, advances, and previews in the New Yorker. Silas’s past resonates with Derrick, and with everyone Derrick shows the story to. It even resonates with the sushi-chef, Maxie, who poses as a delivery person just so she can meet the man whose stories she thinks so perfectly capture her own troubles with cancer.
Will fame and recognition save Silas’s soul and allow him see that his voice matters? That telling his story will help others, in addition to getting the income that he so desperately needs? At this point the story follows an uplifting but somewhat formulaic path: depressed writer makes good, finds personal happiness through the redemptive power of a book deal. Just when it seems as if the stakes aren’t high enough, in comes a twist in the form of Silas’s long lost brother Finn (J. Julien Christopher) from
Silas is not entirely unaware of the consequences of his actions, but shutting himself off from the world certainly made it easier for him to write without anyone questioning the accuracy of his claims. If he does not speak to anyone, no one can question him. The way he explains it, he didn't consciously set out to steal his families stories simply to gain fame; he just feared that his own stories weren't engaging enough for his friends and potential audience to appreciate them. Silas thought stretching the truth was the only way to gain love, in both his personal and professional lives.
This explanation raises a few questions regarding both Silas's actions, and in a larger sense, those of writers such as James Frey. Is Silas at fault for stealing his adopted family’s life stories for artistic gain, or is the public and our current literary climate to blame for driving Silas to lie in the first place? Instead of working towards resolving these questions, the play tries to give Silas redemption through promoting Maxie’s own stories of her life and cancer, going as far as seeking out Derrick in the middle of Central Park, to give him her poems. It’s an altruistic act, maybe even a redemptive one, but it seems a little too neat and convenient. Sure, it’s great that Silas can leave the comforting cradle of his self-pity to help a friend, but it seems too much like an attempt to create a happy ending for a play that, up to this point, has proudly shied away from them.
CSV Cultural Center 107 Suffolk Street
Performances (through 4/5): Thursdays at 8(except for 4/3), 3/31 at 8pm, 3/22, 3/29, and 4/5 at 3pm, 4/5 at 8pm, and 4/2 and 4/3 at 8pm.
Tickets available at www.2g.org or by phone at (212) 352-3101. Adults: $18, Students: $11.