Seventy years ago, the classic urban detective story leaked from the dime-store paperback onto the silver screen. Since then, strong storytellers like Hitchcock and the Coen brothers have kept the genre crisp, all while sticking with shrewd leading men and blundering villains. Lawrence Dial's new play, Hollow Log, is an example of why it's so hard to make this sort of involved, complicated crime tale pay onstage.
Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis
Denny (Joachim Boyle) and Annie (Erin Roberts) have been best buds since high school, long before Annie's parents died and left her a large inheritance. Over the years, Annie's been supporting Denny, sharing her parents' East Village apartment and helping Denny to get food and weed. But tonight, she needs Denny's help, for she's just returned from a strange encounter with a Russian mobster (Andrew Kaempfer), and she's convinced that her bag of Smarties is actually full of Ecstasy.
Their light banter shows Mr. Dial's keen ear for dialogue, but like the constant trashing of their gentrified neighborhood, he tries too hard to sound hip and casual by dropping "bro" and "man" at the end of every other sentence, completely discrediting any sense of originality. These constant one-liners slow the plot and distract from the mystery, and it's a safe assumption that Dial wrote the play while indulging in the same habits as pot-smoking, movie-referencing Denny. It's like The Big Lebowski, only without a straight man and without the underlying style.
A series of incoherent events start off the choppy second act, and the audience is left wondering whether or not they are seeing the same play as before intermission. New characters appear out of nowhere and do little to help solve the mystery set up in the first act. Hastily throwing in a cattle Taser, a torture scene, a homicide, a pregnancy, and a closeted gay couple in need of cash all right before the climax does little good in providing a neat finale where all the facts stack up. Spending too much time being gimmicky to make much sense as a comedic thriller, the story spirals out of control without being able to get back on track. The final scene provides a much-needed resolution, but it's about twenty minutes too late.
Hollow Log has to borrow schlub-chic characters from Judd Apatow flicks and sarcastic cues from Napoleon Dynamite because the play is just a lot of flashy dialogue (the actors struggle not to trip over their own lines.) Mr. Dial has a refreshing sense of humor but he has chosen the wrong genre to put it in: his attempt to emulate classic films does not work well on stage. The problem with a crackling script is that it often goes up in smoke.
Hollow Log (1 hr. 45 mins.; one intermission)
Roy Arias Studios (300 West 43rd Street, 5th floor)
Tickets [212.868.4444 or www.smarttix.com]: $15
Performances (through 2/08): Thurs.-Sun. @ 8pm
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.