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As curator and administrator of the Ohio Theatre, white-haired Robert Lyons is a man much admired. As the playwright of Red-Haired Thomas, now showing at the Ohio, he may receive less approbation. Set in an anxious Manhattan of the mind, Red-Haired Thomas opens with a scene of a half-naked Thomas Jefferson (Alan Benditt), who congratulates himself for having “fathered the most human of all human rights—and the most elusive: the right to pursue happiness.” He also claims to have fathered two singularly unhappy men: Cliff (Peter Sprague), “a delusional dreamer with a penchant for violence,” and Ifthikar (Danny Beiruti), an immigrant from Asia Minor who runs a newsstand.
Under Oliver Butler’s direction, Red-Haired Thomas is a play about everything and nothing. It encompasses discussions of financial uncertainty, global unrest, domestic terrorism, even New York housing laws. But the characters never fully emerge, nor do the relationships engage, save for appealing interactions between Cliff and his precocious daughter, Abby (Nicole Raphael). The tone volleys uneasily between realism and absurdism—at times verging on parody—as when Ifthikar orders Cliff to “Denounce the Electoral College!” In the evening’s loveliest moment, Cliff’s wife, Marissa (Danielle Skraastad), and Thomas Jefferson escape the play entirely, slipping out the Ohio’s barn doors and into the street beyond. The show ends soon after—loosing audiences into the night to better pursue their own happiness. ALEXIS SOLOSKI