Julius is a rising star in New York state politics, intent on busting into the big leagues. He likes popcorn, opposes harsh sentencing laws for minors, and recently gave a speech that went viral. But Julius has a problem: Back in college, he stalked his ex-girlfriend Holly, and now she’s nursing traumatic memories and threatening to tell The New York Times.
This extortionary tug-of-war occupies the 90-minute span of Kenneth Lin’s Warrior Class, a tightly constructed but oddly vacant three-hander, directed by Evan Cabnet and now playing at Second Stage’s Upper West Side outpost. Over a series of lunches at which no one eats anything, we witness increasingly tense negotiations between Julius (Louis Ozawa Changchien), Holly (Katharine Powell), and Julius’s campaign strategist, Nathan (David Rasche), a schlubby career operative unafraid to play dirty. Soon, tears are flowing and skeletons tumbling out of closets (elegant closets, hidden among the polished paneling in Andromache Chalfant’s sleek set). Holly’s life, it seems, slid downhill after her days as a coed stalk-ee—she married a crook who cheats on her, and now hopes to blackmail Julius into sponsoring her new life. But she’s not the only one with angst—Julius and his wife just suffered a miscarriage, and Nathan’s daughter is a meth addict who won’t speak to him.
Cabnet and the cast keep these confrontations crisp, but Lin’s drama could use some strategic focus of its own. If Warrior Class is about revenge, it’s tough to care whether Holly gets it. If it’s about government’s seamy side, well, Julius’s candidacy couldn’t be less compelling: We know he’s a Republican, and we know he’s Chinese-American and struggling with stereotype—but we don’t know what he stands for or why. (And p.s.: does anyone actually need a reminder that money makes politics tick?) In a real-world election year when the stakes couldn’t be higher, such bland political intrigue just doesn’t feel very intriguing.