Apparently, performing eight shows a week in Broadway?s Of Mice and Men, appearing in roughly one film per summer month, directing a film a year, and hyper-Instagramming his now-infamous selfies isn’t enough activity for the tireless James Franco. Now, he adds theater director to his far-reaching and seemingly never-ending CV with The Long Shrift, a new play by novelist Robert Boswell about the politics and controversy that surround a high school rape case (playing at Off Broadway’s Rattlestick Playwrights Theater through Aug. 23).
At the risk of being called a ''little bitch'', I wish he had chosen a play that indulged his Cheshire Cat surprise factor instead of one that too often treads familiar territory. Richie (Scott Haze, a veteran of two Franco-directed movies), a convicted teen rapist recently sprung from jail, unwillingly reconnects with his now-recanting accuser (Ahna O?Reilly), his ex high school girlfriend (and accuser) who wants to right her wrong. His mother (Ally Sheedy), fighting a bad ticker, questions whether he was ever truly innocent, and his gentle father (Brian Lally) ushers him back into normality. But when an overambitious high school events guru (Allie Gallerani) gets involved, old wounds begin to open up again, and publicly to boot.
Boswell?s play is too much tell and not enough show; it’s one of those efforts in which characters spout off ideals rather than truly lived-in dialogue. The tone is simultaneously pulpy and flip, rendering a lot of the internal debate a muddle. This is especially true of Gallerani’s bubble-headed character, who never emerges as a credible or sympathetic. (In a play that explores the exploitation of women?s feelings, it sure doesn?t treat her too kindly.)
Admittedly, there’s a meta poignancy when former Breakfast Club-er Sheedy—in her first NYC theater appearance in 10 years—recounts the slippery slope of grades nine through 12. (”High school is the most conservative institution in the world. That?s just the way it is,” she says, her eyes droopy with weariness.)
To his credit, Franco makes good use of Rattlestick Playwright Theater?s cramped stage (you can practically smell the mildew in the family’s dumpy abode). But the cast have noticeably different approaches to technique: Lally is so quiet you sometimes strain to hear him, while Haze is the polar opposite. The standout performer is O’Reilly (a Franco ex, by the way—process that however you need to), who gives the most restrained portrayal in the play?s most difficult role. Her silences actually speak volumes above the play?s platitudes, which are as omnipresent as Franco’s creative exploits. C+