Review: Guest At Central Park

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The Guest at Central Park West needs to be a guest in the homes of all America. This play knocks loudly and demands to be heard. Listen carefully for the bell when the guest at Central Park rings.

REVIEW




The Guest at Central Park West presented by the Hadley Players and written by Bruce Edwin Jenkins is running at the St. Philips Church Community Center, located at 207 West 133rd Street in Harlem, until June 3rd.  


It is the type of thought provoking play that one has to see over and over.  The production is a study of the human propensity for violence. In question is whether violence lies inherent within human nature or whether it is learned behavior.  And, if it’s learned behavior, can it be eventually tethered and overcome. 


Also, one wonders that if violence lies at varying degrees of emotion, at what point does it become volcanic, erupt, and veer out of control to the point one contemplates murder.  These are the questions that Professor Charles Watts (Michael Green) discussed in his Nobel Prize wining book. Watts sees mankind as spiritual beings having a mortal experience and thereby predisposed toward goodness.


Humbled and delighted by the celebrity that came from his Nobel win, Charles finds himself a prisoner to those who disagree with the ideals expressed in his book.  A book that claims violence can be overcome given the correct set of circumstances.  Unfortunately for Charles and his wife Nina (Wendi Joy Franklin), his book resulted in his life being threatened anonymously by phone.  His changing his phone number, contacting the police, pleading with the callers to stop, did nothing to assuage the threats.  Finally, the couple decide to throw a dinner party for their daughter Lisa (Erinn Holmes), her boyfriend Seth (Curt Bouril), and their best friends in an attempt to return to some degree of normalcy. 


Little did, the Watts realize, “normalcy� is an idea requiring constant cultivation. Since none are exempt from the hidden agenda of life, little seeds of deception were reaped at the dinner party.  As the evening wore on, eventually each in attendance was forced to examine the dormant aggression that lie within their collective psyche. 


Professor Eric Engles (played by Jay Nickerson) and his wife Jennifer (Tracy Newirth), consider themselves close friends of the Watts.  In fact, Eric Engles sees himself as Professor Watts’ best friend.  Although, in truth, Watts is not so sure that he sees Eric as such.  It becomes clear Eric lives a double life.  A life Jennifer has only recently uncovered. 


Her discovery has left Jennifer bitter and angry. She seeks solace in a wine bottle barely able to contain her building rage against her husband. It only takes a few drinks to uncap the social pretenses that mask her ire.  Eric, for his part, is unremorseful.  He is also envious of his friend’s success yet clings to the idea of being Charles’ best friend as if it were a lifeline.  To him, Charles lives the perfect life while he competes to keep up.  He sees in Watts what he lacks within himself so hangs on to the vestiges of Charles’s success.  Refusing to see their relationship is in fact a sham.


The dinner party is going well until the ring of the unanswered phone brings the festive mood crashing down, replacing it with a visage of dread that hangs heavily about the room.  Only the sound of a car alarm temporary distracts them from their fear.  When it is discovered that it’s Charles’s car alarm he goes out to investigate only to return with a homeless man played by John Marshall Jones.  The homeless man, Terrence Barlow, turns out to play a central role in Watt’s past.


Jones’s entrance into the play steals the attention of the audience and keeps it.  Terrence becomes a pivotal figure. He is a brilliant man with an IQ so high that it is not inconceivable that he too could be a Nobel Prize winner.  Terrence holds a secret that binds him to Charles in a most surprising way.  He is complex, violent, yet caring.  Brilliant by book, he is smart by the streets and manages to balance the polarity of his inconsistencies with an ingenious grasp of reality. 


Injured by life, Terrence knows how cruel the world can be so cuts decisively to the heart of the matter.  He knows full well the cowardice that lies at the core of the so-called Master race. Yet he understands that both the manipulator and the manipulated take part in a dance in which both are full partners. 


Terrence sees that the world is run by fear.  He defines his position by explaining the biggest gun wins, albeit temporarily. The stakes become higher and the fear greater with the objective to make sure that those on the bottom never flip over to the top. Fear leads to action that occasionally leads to guilt, guilt to denial and denial to hypocrisy.


Oppressors understand all to well their culpability, the trick is to distract others from seeing it. The fear that drives the oppressor must never be seen so he instills fear in others with bigger and bigger weapons, all designed to hide the greed and impotency which drives the oppressor onward in his killing game.  Always terrified that one day the oppressed will pull down the oppressor from his bully pulpit.  Terrence knows their game. He’s played it on smaller playing fields and has paid the price for it. Scarred and incensed, he is determined to even the field. So sharpened is his vision he sees right through the pretenses of his dinner mates.


The Guest at Central Park West needs to be a guest in the homes of all America.  This play knocks loudly and demands to be heard.  Listen carefully for the bell when the guest at Central Park rings.  His ring may actually awaken a sleeping America from its stupor. 


I say run, hurry, get down to the St Phillips Church and see this production before it closes in June. You will remain haunted by the truth of this play.

 


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