Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

REVIEW: 'Asymmetric'

New City Stage Company's world premiere of Mac Rogers' spy thriller 'Asymmetric,' offers the kind of entertainment that's usually enjoyed while lounging on the sofa, holding a remote, says critic Wendy Rosenfield..

REVIEW: 'Asymmetric'

By Wendy Rosenfield
FOR THE INQUIRER
Playwright Mac Rogers wants you to let him entertain you, and New City Stage Company’s world premiere of his spy thriller, Asymmetric, offers the kind of entertainment that’s usually enjoyed while lounging on the sofa, holding a remote. A quick-hit 80 minutes, this drama takes us from a back-room interrogation at the CIA to a techno-driven chase through Reykjavik, Iceland, sending us into the night to play Rashomon and figure out who knew what, when.
Want romance with that adventure? Rogers provides a pair of ex-spouses, Josh (Kevin Bergen), and Sunny (Kim Carson). He’s a disgraced ex-agent called in to get answers from her, both ex-wife and former protégé, accused of selling state secrets. Want violence? Meet Ford (Eric Rolland), a sadistic government inquisitor who specializes in finger-removal via hedge clipper. Comedy? Here’s Zack (Ross Beschler), a bumbling agent with the heart, comb-over and mustache of a born middle manager.
Care to plumb the motivations that lead a person to lose him or herself in this sort of personal and professional labyrinth? Look elsewhere. This is a playwright who once said he doesn’t like “sitting through something like Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” though he really wishes he did. 
Thus, Rogers’ characters spring fully formed from his head and into government service. For all their quippy dialogue — upon seeing Josh, Ford sneers, “Nice to see you, Josh. Gives me that peaceful August 2001 feeling” — they have no background, no family. While there’s more than enough circumstantial exposition, there’s no mention of the external tethers that connect them to real life. Even double agents and CIA sadists come from somewhere.
Carson’s Sunny, handcuffed and bleeding, but always taut, fares better under these circumstances; Bergen’s Josh seems adrift. Director Russ Widdall no doubt has his reasons for leaving Josh soft and amorphous, some of which probably have to do with plot twists I won’t discuss here, but nonetheless, Bergen just doesn’t project the sly intelligence or propulsion of a character described as being “on Thursday while the rest of us are on Tuesday.” 
Bloody escapism is nothing new onstage, and this thrill-kill variety shares a noble lineage, stretching from McDonagh to Shakespeare and beyond. But Rogers’ hermetically developed characters don’t earn it. On TV, you can wait for the next episode to explain special agent Sunny’s attraction to a man like Josh. Onstage, you get your 80 minutes — go ahead, take 90 if you need to — and if you want your audience to go home and puzzle over what happened, you’d better give them a reason to care.

By Wendy Rosenfield

FOR THE INQUIRER

Playwright Mac Rogers wants you to let him entertain you, and New City Stage Company’s world premiere of his spy thriller, Asymmetric, offers the kind of entertainment that’s usually enjoyed while lounging on the sofa, holding a remote. A quick-hit 80 minutes, this drama takes us from a back-room interrogation at the CIA to a techno-driven chase through Reykjavik, Iceland, sending us into the night to play Rashomon and figure out who knew what, when.

Want romance with that adventure? Rogers provides a pair of ex-spouses, Josh (Kevin Bergen), and Sunny (Kim Carson). He’s a disgraced ex-agent called in to get answers from her, both his ex-wife and his former protégé, accused of selling state secrets. Want violence? Meet Ford (Eric Rolland), a sadistic government inquisitor who specializes in finger-removal via hedge clipper. Comedy? Here’s Zack (Ross Beschler), a bumbling agent with the heart, comb-over and mustache of a born middle manager.

Care to plumb the motivations that lead a person to lose him or herself in this sort of personal and professional labyrinth? Look elsewhere. This is a playwright who once said he doesn’t like “sitting through something like Long Day’s Journey Into Night, though he really wishes he did. 

Thus, Rogers’ characters spring fully formed from his head and into government service. For all their quippy dialogue — upon seeing Josh, Ford sneers, “Nice to see you, Josh. Gives me that peaceful August 2001 feeling” — they have no background, no family. While there’s more than enough circumstantial exposition, there’s no mention of the external tethers that connect them to real life. Even double agents and CIA sadists come from somewhere.

Carson’s Sunny, handcuffed and bleeding, but always taut, fares better under these circumstances; Bergen’s Josh seems adrift. Director Russ Widdall no doubt has his reasons for leaving Josh soft and amorphous, some of which probably have to do with plot twists I won’t discuss here, but nonetheless, Bergen just doesn’t project the sly intelligence or propulsion of a character described as being “on Thursday while the rest of us are on Tuesday.”

Bloody escapism is nothing new onstage, and this thrill-kill variety shares a noble lineage, stretching from McDonagh to Shakespeare and beyond. But Rogers’ hermetically developed characters don’t earn it. On TV, you can wait for the next episode to explain special agent Sunny’s attraction to a man like Josh. Onstage, you get your 80 minutes — go ahead, take 90 if you need to — and if you want your audience to go home and puzzle over what happened, you’d better give them a reason to care.

Presented by New City Theater Company at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St.. through June10. Tickets: $10-$26. Information: 215-563-7500 or www.NewCityStage.org.

About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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