Durham welcomes to the fold another theater house as we witness the premiere production of the Common Wealth Endeavors, brainchild of Gregor McElvogue. His Triangle credits include NCSU’s summer Theatrefest, Chapel Hill’s Deep Dish Theater, and Durham’s Manbites Dog. Common Wealth’s first production is a Canadian play by Daniel Karasik, The Innocents, which is being staged at Durham’s Common Ground Theatre.
The Innocents presents to us five very different characters, all of whom might be caught up in a “Quarter-Life Crisis,” which, according to Erik H. Erikson, is one of eight crises that an individual faces during his development. The play centers around Stanley (Matthew Hager), a twenty-five-year-old attorney who is a wunderkind, graduating law school at an early age. He is currently attempting to defend another twenty-something, Aaron (Scott Heath), who has admitted to killing an elderly lady in order to obtain her expensive necklace. The problem is, Aaron is not helping in his defense. Aaron wishes Stanley would go away and let him be convicted because he has nothing to live for on the outside. He is of the mind that prison would be a better bet.
Outside of Aaron’s case, Stanley meets with a newspaper reporter, Laura (Hilary Edwards), the interview with whom leads back to Stanley’s apartment, where his admittedly sad attempts at seduction send her fleeing. But the discussion of Stanley’s current case sends Laura to see Aaron, and she ends up doing a feature story on him. Meanwhile, Stanley is attempting to learn more about Aaron by interviewing his latest lover, Jackie (Alice Rose Turner), a waitress who left Aaron just prior to the necklace murder.
A busy man, Stanley also sits down with a man who is interested in getting Stanley to invest in his latest money-making scheme, which involves window-washing, a nightclub or two, and tee shirts. Jude (Ishai Buchbinder) is convinced of the solvency of such an endeavor, but fails to convince Stanley to invest.
The Innocents plays out on a sparse, three-spot stage that includes the interview room at Aaron’s prison, a restaurant, and Stanley’s apartment. Each locale is surrounded by police tape, the black and yellow strip that usually says “keep out.” The Spartan setting of the play emphasizes the seeming emptiness of the characters’ lives. It is also pointed out that each of these individuals finds the lives of the others lacking; Stanley is feeling alone because he cannot connect with the others around him. Each character spends a good deal of time denigrating the others as missing out on life.
Common Wealth Endeavors' first production is one that reaches for something just beyond its grasp. Stanley leaves the profession because he is unhappy, but he cannot figure out what he wants to do next. But the play does not bring us closer to any truths; it merely points out the deficiencies in the lives of these characters. It leaves us feeling a bit cheated ourselves; we do not come to care for these characters and, even though the talented cast members do their best, we do not feel obligated to know the characters' fates. Despite the fact that the show runs a scant 75 minutes, we find ourselves wondering, around the sixty-minute mark, when this sad little group of characters will end.
The Innocents brings to Durham a new theater company that has assembled a talented group of actors and producers, and it shows a good knowledge of the craft and a polished presentation. But the play, sparse as it is, does not seem up to the high level of production given it by this new company. Here’s hoping that the company’s next endeavor - Elevator, by Jess Sayer, slated for fall 2013 - will prove a better foil.
Note: The Innocents continues through 3/23. For details, see the sidebar.