In his program note, director–co-writer–chief instigator Robert O’Hara claims that Partial Comfort Productions’ Play “was conceived as an exercise in the Craft of Playwriting.” Unfortunately, the piece never surpasses mere exercise.
Play is a playwright’s version of the game telephone: O’Hara took a short scene and passed it on—via e-mail—to five other playwrights in succession (Chay Yew, Kia Corthron, Edwin Sanchez, Keith Josef Adkins, and Tracey Scott Wilson). They were instructed to write another scene using at least one character from the previous section, adding, if necessary, only one new person. They were also told to “move the story forward in an adventurous manner.” (You’d think the last rule would be kind of obvious.)
The results are a mess. According to O’Hara, the piece is supposed to follow the tangled web of various overlapping “metrosexual relationships” (a term that should be banned from the English language). However, the arbitrary connections and inconsistencies of character, tone, and theme only become more and more trying as time goes on. Play is a lot of work for the audience.
There are a couple of high points: Sanchez’s contribution ties up the loose ends in a humorously imaginative way. Unfortunately, this denouement comes halfway through the show instead of at the end. And Adkins smartly ignores Yew and Corthron’s previous poetical claptrap to create witty—though pretty much unrelated—dialogue (nicely performed by Lionel Gentle and Melvina Jones).
Ultimately, the fault lies with O’Hara. A polyphonic investigation like this is a good idea, but like any experiment in democracy, it requires reasonably strong leadership. O’Hara’s lackluster directing and his unwillingness—or inability—to sculpt these disparate works into a cohesive whole demonstrate that he’s simply not the man for the job.