Wednesday , May 22 2024
Love, death, and interior decorating create a worthwhile evening of theater, enlivened by inspired performances, sharp dialogue, and depth of thought.

Theater Review: Keith Boynton’s The Quotable Assassin and Walls

Though not long out of college, playwright Keith Boynton has a marvelously clever and pointed way with words. "Stoppardian" has become a cliché, but there is a pithiness and playfulness in his dialogue that suggests happy inspiration from the great wordsmiths of the modern stage. Boynton puts this facility in the service of two stories, on the surface quite different, but underneath betraying parallel narrative flow and concerns. The result is a resonant evening of theater, although the two approaches — one story quotidian, the other mythically grand — do not, ultimately, succeed equally well.

The first play, Walls, is a taut, tense, and funny two-character dramatization of what would seem a rather unremarkable situation. An old flame returns, complicating the life of a woman who is trying to get over her father's recent death by throwing herself into renovating his house. Carter (Mike LaVoie), the clean-cut interloper, hides his emotions behind a wit that's too ready for his own good, but as the dance of words progresses, we begin to see the fragile nobility that made Gail (Joan Kubicek) like him so much in the first place. With their sturdy, snappy performances these two robust actors fully inhabit the aggressive dialogue, compacting its larger-than-life directness and its writerly cleverness into refreshingly homey art. Thus the magic of theater. These two characters deserve each other — in a good way. Just the right length, the story ends with a satisfying punch. Directed fluidly by the author, the play is a small gem.


Mike Lavoie and Joan Kubicek in Walls. Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity

The second play, The Quotable Assassin, is a period drama in which the life of a condemned revolutionary, Simon (Boynton), is spared temporarily through the influence of Lucia (Roya Shanks), a popular novelist who wishes to base her latest work on his life. During a series of prison-cell interviews, defenses break down on both sides. Shanks is utterly convincing as the hyper-cultured, emotionally pent-up celebrity author who, Capote-like, bonds fatefully with her murderous subject. Her inner struggles play out in her every expression and gesture. She's an absolute joy. Boynton, however, makes his character rather too self-consciously charismatic, embracing his own elevated language so lovingly that, instead of living through the words, he turns speech into an end in itself. While this makes for an entertaining character, sometimes fascinating and always fun to watch and listen to, we don't see in his idealistic smartass the likeable side Lucia sees.

There's also a late plot twist that seems unnecessary and makes the play too long. Like the perfectly paced Walls, The Quotable Assassin is fundamentally a painfully human story of self-discovery that ends with a sad but hopeful departure. Unlike Walls, it suffers from overreach, outgrowing the confines of its one-act format. There's a wonderful, tight little play in it, but Boynton and the director (his mother, the cartoonist-writer-musician Sandra Boynton), haven't quite teased it out.

Nonetheless, this is a very worthwhile evening of theater, enlivened by inspired performances, sharp dialogue, and depth of thought.

Through Nov. 18 at Altered Stages in NYC. Tickets available at TheaterMania.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

Check Also

Augmented Reality App Review: ‘Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer’

A highly recommended experience with engaging interaction and simplistic interface that maximizes learning and young audience experience.