Anthony J. Piccione
New York Critic
The feeling of betrayal is always one of the most sickening and disturbing feelings that someone can have. It’s only even worse, when it comes as a result of losing trust – as a result of learning facts about them not previously known – in a close mentor or teacher whom you once admired and thought you could look up to. It is exactly this type of relationship that is explored, in a very modern and relevant context, in Ben Gassman’s brilliant new play entitled Independent Study.
The play revolves around the relationship between a first-generation college student and her professor. At the core of the plot lies the past crimes that each of their respective brothers committed, and how one’s actions are seemingly treated different from the other’s, simply based on their respective ethnicities. These all-too familiar cultural realities – and the painful falling out between these two – ultimately make for a powerful story, and certainly kept this theatergoer’s attention from beginning to end.
I was also particularly impressed with the structure of the play: The play’s scenes rotate from either the student’s or professor’s perspective to the ensemble of the play who repeat lines that frequently begin with “I did it because…” in an attempt to justify their actions of violence. This proved to be a very effective storytelling device, which enhances the dark and disturbing tone of the play, while conveying the play’s theme and making its plot structure all the more unique.
Staged in the 56 Black Box Theater at The Tank, the play is staged expertly by director Ran Xia, and with the help of lighting designer Elizabeth M. Stewart, the play’s emotional and haunting atmosphere is captured perfectly. The performances from the entire cast are riveting, and only make the play feel even more powerful than it already is. My only regret is that I can’t single out particular actors who were especially great, as I was not informed – through the program, or elsewhere – who plays who in the show!
With debates surrounding issues of racism, gun violence, terrorism and white privilege all playing a major part in our social and political climate today, this play feels incredibly timely, and only adds to these very important and thought-provoking discussions in our society. Its experimental nature make it all the more worth seeing, and as far as I’m concerned, it makes me eager to see more of Mr. Gassman’s work in the future. For now, however, I encourage you to see this latest work of his, while you can.
“Independent Study” stars Kelly Bartnik, Yair Ben Dor, Sean Hinckle, Finn Kilgore, Andrea Negrete, Sharlee J. Taylor, Gareth Tidball, and Alphonso Walker Jr.
“Independent Study” is written by Ben Gassman and directed by Ran Xia, featuring production design by An-Lin Dauber, lighting design by Elizabeth M. Stewart, sound design by Ran Xia, fight choreography by Dispatch Combat Collective, stage manager/assistant director Gabrielle Giacomo, and producer Elisabeth Ng.
“Independent Study” runs at The Tank, located at 312 W 36th Street, New York, NY, from November 1st-17th. Run time is 90 minutes without intermission.
For more information, please visit www.thetanknyc.org.