Robert Browning would have something to say about this one act drama. As I reflected on the play, I was reminded of his quotation:
“Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what's a heaven for?”
In the case of "Kind Souls," it seems as if the reach of Tom Diggs has exceed the grasp of his writing, the staging by Director, Alexander Greenfield, and the depth of two actors who portray Tara and Oliver. It seems apparent that Mr. Diggs has set out to present the banality of evil and an exploration of how two "kind souls" could be drawn into a web in which they are complicit in the deaths of innocent individuals.
The problem I have with the play is that the dilemma that Tara and Oliver face is set in the midst of a generic "conflict," in a nameless place, answering to nameless "they" who coerce them into signing mysterious contracts. The intent seems to be to ask how Germans could have been coerced into working in the death camps, but to universalize the question of how evil insidiously creeps into the hearts of otherwise good people. Yet by failing to set the action in a particular place, the free-floating ethical exploration lacks punch and focus.
The dialogue and actions that Tara (Lindsey Kyler) and Oliver (John Clarence Stewart) are given by the playwright do not allow them to develop any chemistry. I found myself strangely unmoved by their situation, and did not care much about what would become of them. An Off-Off-Broadway setting is one in which I am accustomed to seeing artists take bold risks. The fact that the action screamed for the actors to be physically naked as they bathed one another - rather than stopping short by keeping on their underwear - felt like they were holding back and not full committing to telling the story . The fact that they mimed carrying pails of water that were supposed to be heavy yet clearly were not reinforced that sense of not being fully committed. And miming smoking cigarettes rather than actually smoking them was another case in point.
This concept is one worth examining in depth. Yet if this play is to have a life beyond this brief run at the Shetler Studios, it will need much reworking and tweaking. Clearly the creative team involved in this project have strong credentials, so I trust that this work in progress will be improved in its execution in its next iteration.
Costume Design by Travis Boatright
Lighting Design by Carl Wiemann
Sound Design by Alex Neumann
Original Music by Michael Finke
Production Management by Steven P. Nemphos
Production Stage Management by Cait Weisensee
Show Art by Alexa Shoemaker
Through February 1, 2015
Theatre 54 at Shetler Studios
244 West 54th Street, 12th Floor