“From White Plains” showcases strong acting yet talks around issues

By: Alex Spindler ~Staff Writer~

Michael Perlman’s social drama, “From White Plains,” opened last weekend as part of the Xavier University Department of Music and Theatre’s second official season.

Not so much polemic as it is eye-opening, “Plains” follows the lives of four thirtysomething men living in a social media-driven world and paying the price for deeds once done.

Ethan Price (Patrick McWilliams) and his best friend, John (Mac Blais), have just witnessed a young screenwriter, Dennis Sullivan (Sean Burlingame), accept an Academy Award for best screenplay for an aptly-named biopic entitled “White Plains.”

During his speech, Dennis publicly decries the actions of bullies everywhere who torment homosexual youths, including Ethan’s behavior from his high school years.

This consequential reveal dramatically affects all members of the cast, including Dennis’s longtime boyfriend, Gregory (Patrick Phillips), as they grapple with their past actions, fix the relationships of the present and look to a more conscious and positive future. As for the presentation, the quartet assembled cohesive, mature performances that elevated trite material.

McWilliams, in particular, delivered a stoic, tried-and-true Ethan that made viewers consider who the real bully is and who is the bullied. Burlingame’s character contrasted McWilliams’ with a very passionate, driven Dennis who struggles with his romantic and professional life. Blais and Phillips nicely roundoff the cast with excellent supporting turns as John and Gregory respectfully.

Concerning the physical aspects, the show’s technical lighting, sound and set design meshed together beautifully. Alice Trent’s lighting, in particular, was a highlight of the show.

Though the production of the show was put together in a very professional manner, the content left something to be desired. Perlman’s script — written in collaboration with original cast members Craig Wesley Divino, Karl Gregory, Jimmy King and Aaron Rossini — offers quickpaced, stichomythia-like dialogue that often succeeds, yet brushes over emotional catharses in other areas. The fast word play didn’t always give the actors time to breathe when a passionate wallop was needed.

However, the drama remains timely and speaks to a contemporary audience that buries its nose in technology and hides behind computer screens for protection. To the theme of bullying, the play addresses some important aspects yet fails to follow them up with any provocative insight.

“From White Plains” tackles various issues such as the struggles that the LGBTQ community faces in this day and age and what it means to conform to society when you carry such baggage behind you.

Phillips’ character, Gregory, in particular makes the claim, “I just want to be normal.” Yet, “Plains” remains static throughout, and its written content does not present any new perspective on a prevalent, highly-discussed matter.

Although a bit rushed at times, “From White Plains” succeeds as a great night at the theater. For a regional premiere straight out of New York City, it is an event production that may not inspire any new perspectives on its themes but will tug at your heartstrings with satisfying performances.

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