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Josh & Shawn
by Paul Hibbard
Directed by Paul Hibbard
The Chapel
July 11, 2014

Set for Josh and Shawn

Set for Josh & Shawn

A new play, like the marriage depicted in writer-director-actor Paul Hibbard’s new production Josh & Shawn, is a labor of love that requires a lot of work to make it successful.  I was glad to be given the opportunity to see Hibbard’s ambitious new work, which is being presented at the Chapel this weekend. In this promising but sometimes uneven work, Hibbard and his cast present the story of a rocky marriage in a simple presentation that is extremely intriguing, but is clearly still a work in progress.

Named for its lead characters, Josh & Shawn is a talky, philosophical exploration of the relationship of one married couple as well as a reflection on the meaning of marriage and romantic relationships in general.  Starting with a wry, witty introduction by narrator Joe Hanrahan, the story unfolds as Josh (Hibbard) and Shawn (Sheri Facchin) spend an evening together, indulging in flights of fantasy as Josh challenges writer Shawn’s relationship with her agent, Mike (Jeffrey Miller) in a series of sequences that portray various versions of an earlier encounter that makes Josh question Shawn’s commitment to the relationship, as well as causing Shawn to question Josh’s trust, and even his love. In the play’s approximately one-hour running time, Josh, Shawn and the imaginary Mike explore various issues about the nature of relationships and the question of whether or not this relationship is worth fighting for.

This is a very good concept, and I especially liked the use of fantasy. Even though the play takes a while to get moving, once Mike shows up and the various imaginary scenarios start playing out, the show becomes much more interesting.  It displays a somewhat cynical view of marriage, and the script could use a little bit of revision especially in the earlier moments, but for the most part it’s a very interesting idea, with its more surreal moments late in the play showing the playwright and the actors at their best. There’s also a fun earlier sequence in which Josh and Shawn play a game involving movie quotes, although before this, a lot of the action is somewhat static.  Staging-wise, I think this production could benefit greatly in the hands of a new director who would be able to look at the production with a different perpective.  There are many moments in which the two main characters simply stand onstage and talk, occasionally wandering about the stage with no apparent purpose, and often times the well-appointed set doesn’t seem to have much purpose. A script can be brought to life with a great deal of power through dynamic staging, and there are several missed opportunities for heightened drama that could have been improved with more focused direction.

Acting-wise, the show could also benefit from a strong director. Hibbard’s performance is fine, if a little unfocused at times, as the insecure, self-centered and occasionally cruel Josh, and I think working with another director might help him gain more confidence in his characterization. Facchin as Shawn gives the play’s strongest performance, as she brings a great deal of complexity and sympathy to the character, and she displays good chemistry with both Hibbard and Miller, who also has some good moments as Mike. His entrance is perhaps the best-staged moment in the play, and his arrival adds a great deal of dramatic tension to the proceedings.  Hanrahan does a good job with a very limited role as the narrator, but he really doesn’t have much to do.

Overall, I would say that this is a show that is very much worth seeing, but it is still very much in process and, like the marriage of its two lead characters, is worth investing in and fighting for.  More productions of this play are planned for the Fall, apparently, and I hope that Hibbard will take some time to revise and re-think some of the staging of this play, and enlist a director who can help it realize its potential.  I’m glad I was able to see this play. It’s an intriguing script that could provide the basis for a lot of thoughtful discussion about the nature of marriage and relationships, but it still seems rough around the edges and could use some work, especially in the staging. It’s a promising show, and I hope that in subsequent stagings it will be able to better fulfill that promise.

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