Written by Mat Schaffer
Directed by Myriam Cyr
Featuring Brian Murray, Vanessa Britting, Anthony J. Goes
Culture Project at Lynn Redgrave Theater
July 6, 2016 – July 30, 2016 

production site

brian murray (maria baranova)
Brian Murray as Professor Williston. Image by Maria Baranova.

On an inviting set designed by Janie Howland that any book-lover entering the Lynn Redgrave Theater could move into — comfortable furniture, books shelved and piled on tables and ceiling-high along the upstage wall — three characters inveigle, cajole, berate, fight and ultimately grow tiresome. Ask Simon is a metaphysical story penned by food critic and student of mysticism Mat Schaffer and staged by actress-director Myriam Cyr that holds few surprises, loads of theatrical tropes, and the suggestion of a story that might be of interest to individuals who are already believers in the supernatural.

Professor Williston (Brian Murray), whose home is the setting of the play, has explored the world of spirits (channeling, communicating with the dead) for his entire academic career and is now we assume retired and living with a younger man James (Anthony J. Goes) under conditions it takes some time to reveal. Lovers? Father and son? We learn in snippets that James has a gift (or a grift, depending on your disposition) for channeling the spirits of the dead that Williston discovered while administering IQ tests at a juvenile facility. James, we learn, was traveling around with his mother doing “readings” until he was abandoned as a child, then got into a bit of trouble and was placed in the facility where Williston found him. In a creepy plot set up, James became Williston’s ward, and spends the rest of the play — when he’s not actually doing a reading with his spirit guide “Simon” and embodying spirits from past centuries inspired by an inelegantly plotted visit from Annie (Vanessa Britting), the niece of a realtor who is planning to show Williston’s house — pleading with Williston to finally allow him to go to school. “I help you with Simon and finally get to go to school,” he says. This plea echoes eerily and oddly through the theater, delivered by a middle-aged actor playing a man in his 20s, entrapped in virtual servitude to the character of a much older man with a passion.

The plot that involves past lives and violence and revelations of who did what to whom in prior centuries is lost in a swirl of as-told-to dramatic storytelling. The much-awarded and beloved character actor Murray seems as exhausted by the production and we are in our seats. Goes and Britting give their characters energy and focus, especially Goes who sweats and cavorts his way through spirit possession numerous times.

© Martha Wade Steketee (July 11, 2016)

Playwright | Mat Schaffer
Director | Myriam Cyr
Set Design | Janie Howland
Lighting | John R. Malinowski
Sound Design | Brian Doser
Costume Design | Cat Stramer

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