The set, designed by Andromache Chalfant, a pristine yet photorealistic one bedroom in Texas serves as backdrop for the homecoming of Richard (Scott Haze), a young man who, after being convicted of raping a girl his senior year of high school, was released from jail after serving a nine-year sentence. During this time in jail his mother Sarah (Ally Sheedy), a rapidly drifting alcoholic with doubts of her son’s innocence, died of a heart condition, leaving only his loyal if simplistic father Henry (Brian Lally) to anticipate his arrival. His early release was granted due to a full recanting from the alleged victim, Beth (Ahna O’Reilly), who then visits the household hoping to make amends. Through commandeering an ambitious high school senior class president Macy (Allie Gallerani), she successfully attempts to convince Richard to attend his high school reunion wherein, upon taking the stage with Beth, Richard venomously tears down his community. It’s upon their return home following the reunion that Beth and Richard recognize their situation unvarnished and learn to understand their roles in each other’s lives as both victim and offender.
Commencing with a prologue in which Richard’s parents move into their new Texas residence out of financial necessity, the plot is offered episodically from confrontation to confrontation. While the family intimacy of the events at hand didn’t quite get under the skin, the absurdist theatricality of the piece well-articulated the sexual conflict. The episodes landed both as blistering blows of heavy handed conviction due to each party’s inability to recognize their role as antagonist and in their nuanced final resolution.
In almost all aspects of the performance from the aforementioned set to the sound design by Bart Fasbender and the lighting design by Burke Brown, the cleanliness of the design presentation divorced the production from photorealism. The barking of Richard’s angry dog and the florescent, and in one particular case harshly surreal, lighting design is placed in clear hues and cues. Similarly the dialogue, as composed by the playwright Robert Boswell, is stripped of the idiosyncratic floridity and personal neurosis usually attributed to family drama and instead constructs each character as reactionary pieces to an event at hand. With such clinically constructed dialogue it was then taken upon the performers to flesh out their characters with humanity and individuality. Under guidance by director James Franco, they embodied a three dimensional issue in three dimensional characterizations without which the entire performance would have seemed heedlessly surreal. Through The Long Shrift, as with most of his theatrical and independent artistic endeavors, James Franco appears to take the mantle of Frank Wedekind, forcing his audience to recognize that sexuality in this world is never as black and white as our constructs are for understanding it outside our experiences.