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Off-Broadway Review: “Days of Rage” at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theatre (Through Sunday, November 25, 2018)

Photo: Lauren Patten and J. Alphonse Nicholson in "Days of Rage." Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Days of Rage” at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theatre (Through Sunday, November 25, 2018)
Written by Steven Levenson
Directed by Trip Cullman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Rooms full of missed opportunities sprawl across Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theatre where Steven Levenson’s new play “Days of Rage” is running through November 2018. Mr. Levenson, the award-winning book-writer of “Dear Evan Hansen, tackles the important issues of nationalism, xenophobia, and racism against the backdrop of a radical collective of three friends protesting the “atrocities” of the Vietnam War. The time is October 1969 and Spence (an intense yet vulnerable Mike Faist), Jenny (a devoted and lonesome Lauren Patten), and Quinn (an unbridled and combative Odessa Young) share a ramshackle old house in upstate New York where they espouse the tenets of Lenin, Marx, and Engels and are engaged in recruiting other anti-war advocates to join them in a road trip to Chicago where an estimated twenty-five thousand will gather to rage against the war, the President, and the establishment.

The collective’s fragile matrix of relationships – a trio of fractured and dysfunctional open pairings – is further threatened by the arrival of Hal (a sensitive and compelling J. Alphonse Nicholson) and Peggy (an eccentric and intrusive Tavi Gevinson). Hal meets Jenny outside of the Sears store where he works and where Jenny is distributing leaflets for the Chicago “rally.” Hal’s boss has given him ten minutes to convince Jenny to leave before the police arrive. Peggy meets Spence in a coffee shop and convinces him to welcome her into the collective – her two thousand dollars is badly needed for rent, utilities, and the cause. Hal’s connection with Jenny is believable and provides an interesting subplot. Peggy’s initial connection with Spence is not believable and provides a predictable and uninteresting subplot.

Like any family system, the strength of the collective dissolves with the addition of the new members. Hal’s “baby brother” is serving in the Army in Vietnam and his romantic friendship with Jenny and his challenges to the collective’s racism and apparent loyalty to the Vietcong shatters the crackled veneer of loyalty and commitment that presume to exist in the collective. Peggy is deceitful, dishonest, and carrying a secret that eventually disarms the collective and separates its members and dissolves the integrity of its mission. Peggy and the mystery of the toothpaste heiress cannot be further parsed without a spoiler alert.

The parallels between the Vietnam era and the current political tribulations in America are compelling though obvious in nature. The three stories within the main narrative are related in twenty short scenes with blackouts in between. Unfortunately, the subplots do more to dilute the impact of “Days of Rage” than to strengthen it. Under Trip Cullman’s direction and with the support of the talented creative team, the cast is uniformly excellent. They develop their characters and their characters’ conflicts with authenticity. Mr. Levenson’s themes succeed in challenging the audience’s complacency; however, the Vietnam tropes (napalm, bombs, political chicanery, etc.) could have been more fully developed.

Perhaps Quinn’s closing “prediction” to Spence in Chicago is the most impressive and alarming: “The world gets bad. And then it gets worse. The Vietnam War doesn’t end for another six years. Nixon gets reelected in a landslide. The Left loses power all over the world for the next fifty years.” Living at the expiration of those fifty-some years is not comfortable and hope wanes. If “Days of Rage” makes that clear, then it is a success. All other goings on in the ramshackle house can be forgiven.

DAYS OF RAGE

“Days of Rage” features Mike Faist, Tavi Gevinson, J. Alphonse Nicholson, Lauren Patten, and Odessa Young.

The creative team for “Days of Rage” includes settings by Louisa Thompson, costumes by Paloma Young, lighting by Tyler Micoleau, and sound by Darron L. West.

“Days of Rage” runs at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theatre (305 West 43rd Street at 8th Avenue) through Sunday, November 25. For more information on “Day of Rage,” including performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://2st.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Lauren Patten and J. Alphonse Nicholson in "Days of Rage." Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, October 30, 2018