Review: “Rut” at the Kraine Theatre

Anthony Piccione

  • New York Critic

As a critic, I get to see all kinds of different shows, which often leave me with varying emotions, ranging from laughter and singing to deep thinking and holding back tears to simply straight-up boredom…and that’s when I’m not feeling mixed feelings, due to my praise for certain aspects of a show, and criticism of other aspects, which is often the case.

Sometimes, however, I see shows that simply leave me with a sense of frustration, due to a lingering sense that the play had the potential to be significantly better, but was clearly underdeveloped. The one-act drama Rut – which is currently in its final performances at the 2018 FRIGID Festival – is a perfect example of such a play.

Written by Jersey City-based playwright/actor Chandy Bennett, who also appears in the cast of the show, the basic premise is one that caught my attention: It is, as the producers of the show describe it, “an exploration of relationships at their most blunt human patterns, exposed in raw form.” This is certainly the stuff that potentially gripping and thought-provoking drama can be made of. However, my kind words for the script ends here.

The play starts off somewhat confusing, and while the plot became clearer as it went on, I still had little reason to care for these characters by the end of the play. Rather, I was left with a lingering sense that there was more to be desired, in terms of finding out who these characters were, and why and how they ended up in the situation they are in. It doesn’t help that the dialogue often felt unconvincing, which led to me losing interest in the show very quickly, over the course of this play.

 Photo: Arts on the Hudson

Photo: Arts on the Hudson

I’ve always been a believer that you can be the best director in the world, and have the best actors in the world, but if you have a bad script, there’s not much that can be done about it. While I can’t say I’m especially familiar with the work of director Michael Joel, it would seem that this production is a validation of this belief. I have no issues with the fine job that it seems Mr. Joel has done in staging this production. I also think the lighting effects in this show were well-done, and that the use of projections helped the audience follow along, over the course of the show.

The cast is a bit of a mixed bag. In her performance, Ms. Bennett did a fair job and delivered her lines with convincing emotion. The fact that she knows her own play better than anyone, as you could say of nearly any playwright, probably helps. Actors Sean Welsh Brown and Nicole Orabona are even more impressive and seem to be highly immersed in the psychological depth of their character types, despite the lackluster dialogue they are given. On the other hand, Zak Kelley stands out as the weak link of this cast, proving to be highly unconvincing throughout his performance as one of four individuals exploring relationships with various others.

Through it all, I was able to see some potential in the play. The pieces are there for it to be a potentially great work of theatre. However, it is hindered primarily by a combination of underdeveloped characters and mediocre dialogue. I could easily see these problems being fixed, with the help of some substantial rewrites. Given that there is only one performance left of this play, Ms. Bennett would be wise to take this as an opportunity to rework her script, assuming she wants to pursue future productions. For the sake of this piece, I hope she does, as that’s the only way I can see a potentially bright future for it.

 “Rut” – presented by the No Dominion Theatre Company as part of the 2018 FRIGID Festival – runs at the Kraine Theatre from February 16th to March 4th. For more information, please visit www.nodominiontheatre.org.