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.