Love’s Labor Lost
Reliving the glory days proves to be most interesting to those directly involved
Keeping Watch has a good heart. It even has a good story. Unfortunately, it’s dull. Too many people equate meaningful drama with a staggeringly slow pace, and that appears to be the mistake made by director Adam Knight. In his attempts to linger on moments of stillness, he’s forgotten that vast distance between audience and actor. In most plays, this one included, we don’t have the benefit of close-ups, which provide powerful immediacy and intimacy in a dramatic moment. Even holding it in the small Chapel Theatre doesn’t get us close to the actors. Instead, we’re sitting… watching people sitting.
David Lee Nelson plays Joseph, an Alabama pastor who loves cemeteries and funerals (but hates baptisms) and feels the church is spiraling out of his grasp. In the graveyard where his wife lies, he meets Laura (played by Many Schmieder), a single woman whose infant son died. Both actors perform well and have good character to work with. At times, though, their scenes get so sluggish that the cemetery seems an appropriate place for them.
Paralleling this story is that of former high school buddies Mike (Paul Rolfes) and Phil (Matt Crosby) reuniting with their other friend Johnny (James Heslop), who has brought along his wife Claire (Blaire Brooks) for the party. Claire is apprehensive as this is taking place in small town Alabama and she is black, about to be among her white husband’s white friends who don’t know about her.
Crosby dominates his scenes, making the most of some boring dialogue and proving that great acting actually can, at times, save a piece from dying in the muck. Rolfes, Heslop, and Brooks are talented actors, but they aren’t as absorbing. They’re trying with this drama, but the tension isn’t working; the pace is so slow it’s affecting their energy, and they can’t make it work.
Thomas Ward’s script, while having a nice framework, decent characters, and moments of well-written dialogue, also has some unfortunate hallmarks of amateurish writing. He spells out everything that he’s already made clear in subtext, just to make the sure the audience gets it. In some scenes, he has the characters ask each other leading questions, which are obvious vehicles for flat exposition. And the final reveal of the play seems more an attempt at cleverness or wrapping everything together tightly than an actual dramatic, meaningful surprise. Even though the move is perhaps intended to explain the character, it in fact cheapens him and the play. The script is loaded with cheap tricks that severely lessen the beauty of its themes.
There are some lovely moments in the play, which make the painful ones all the more a shame. Joseph’s impromptu eulogy which he’s requested to deliver, and Phil’s song that he performs with his guitar at the friends’ old hideaway (which even brought some audience members to tears) show the core of this play and the potential it has in its observations in the beauty of individuals and the pain of loss. But with such a dreadfully sloth-like pace, this play feels even less interesting than what its already weakened script provides.
Keeping Watch • Piccolo Spoleto’s Stelle Di Domani Series • $15 • (90 minutes) • May 30, 31, June 1, 2 at 8 p.m.; May 27, June 2 at 3 p.m.; May 28 at 6:30 p.m. • $20, seniors/students • Chapel Theatre, 172 Calhoun St. • 554-6060