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Con College
by Sam Rozier
Directed by Jordan Block
St. Lou Fringe Festival
August 20, 2021

Spencer Davis Milford, Sam Rozier
Photo: River Rat Productions
St. Lou Fringe Festival

This year, St. Lou Fringe is back to in-person live performances, running over one weekend after a slate of digital offerings the previous weekend. The show I’ve been able to see this year is a promising new work by a troupe of mostly St. Louis based artists, by a local playwright-actor who has set the show in St. Louis. Con College, which boasts a strong cast, seems to fit best in the “R-rated dark comedy” genre, although it has dramatic moments and doesn’t always seem to know how dark it wants to be. For the most part, however, it’s a promising new work with an intriguing premise and interesting characters.

As the story starts, we meet Davey (Spencer Davis Milford), who is seemingly content in his life as a brainy and somewhat smug Wash U student who spends much of his time partying with friends, smoking pot, and making money writing papers for fellow students. A phone call with his mom suggests there’s been some family drama in the past, as he refers to himself as “the good son”. Soon we find out more about Davey’s older brother, Jake (Sam Rozier) when Detective James (Alison Kertz) and Officer Rob (Jordan Bollwerk) arrive to inform Davey that Jake–who has been in prison for five years after robbing a jewelry store–has escaped. There’s more to the story, involving white supremacist gangs, the witness protection program, and Jake’s former girlfriend, Jessica (Caroline Amos), who has kept in touch with Davey and has been trying to move on with her life and free herself from Jake’s destructive influence. Soon, of course, Jake shows up and the plot gets even more complicated and we learn more about some of the relationship dynamics between Jake and Davey, as well as their relationships with Jessica, and Jake’s explanation for why he does what he does.

As the story develops, the comedy gets more and more physical and dark, somewhat reminiscent of the plays of Martin McDonagh, although not quite as dark or gory–although there are moments where it looks like the proceedings may go in that direction. Here, though, there is a strong dramatic vein that could stand to be emphasized a little more, leading up to a somewhat abrupt ending that maybe could use a little more build-up. For the most part, though, this is an intriguing story with some well-drawn characters who seem a lot more credible and less caricatured than in some broader dark comedies I’ve seen. The St. Louis references are nice, as well, if a little superficial.

Still, this is a play that has a lot going for it, with the relationship between the brothers–and of both brothers with Jessica–being the highlights. The cast here is strong, as well, led by the Milford as Davey, who brings a relatable likability to the role that is essential for this play to work. He’s contrasted by the also strong Rozier as Jake. Even though he doesn’t have quite the swagger and presence that the role seems to demand, Rozier brings a sense of boyish charm to the the otherwise destructive character that makes both Davey’s and Jessica’s devotion to him more believable. Amos as the conflicted Jessica is excellent, as well, displaying strong chemistry with both Milford and Rozier, and allowing the audience to sympathize with her plight. There’s also good supporting work from Kertz in the small but important role of Detective James, and Bollwerk in a dual role as Officer Rob and another important character who shows up later and is the catalyst for a lot of the darker moments of the show. This dual-casting is a bit confusing at first and it may help the play in future productions if these roles are not played by the same actor, but Bollwerk does a good job in both roles nonetheless. 

This is a fast-paced show with no dull moments, a strong cast, and a script that brings up some thought-provoking moral dilemmas in the midst of the increasing mayhem. Con College is a show that I’d be curious to see again after it’s had a little more development. As it is now, it’s a memorable show that works well in its somewhat rough setting, staged in a tent at St. Lou Fringe. I’m glad I was able to see it.

 

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