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The Little Dog Laughed

The Stones

Australia's Zeal Theatre presents a fascinating work based on a true story of two teenagers on trial for manslaughter.

By New York City
Stefo Nantsou and Tom Lycos in The Stones
(Photo © Tracy Schramm)
Stefo Nantsou and Tom Lycos in The Stones
(Photo © Tracy Schramm)
Two teenage boys drop a stone from a highway overpass, killing a passing motorist. Should they be convicted of manslaughter? The Stones, a fascinating piece written and performed by Stefo Nantsou and Tom Lycos of Australia's Zeal Theatre, poses this question and many more in its New York premiere production under the aegis of the New Victory Theater.

The play was inspired by a 1994 Melbourne trial dealing with a case of this type. Nantsou and Lycos interviewed one of the detectives investigating the crime and researched court transcripts and accounts of similar incidents. The result is a wildly imaginative, entertaining, and thought-provoking work that offers no easy answers as to the boys' culpability.

The performance begins with the two performers jamming on electric guitars. Their joyous facial expressions and sense of play immediately evoke the youth of the unnamed boys they're portraying. Nantsou, physically much larger, plays the 15-year-old ringleader, while Lycos plays the 13-year-old who trails along after him. They engage in delinquent activities such as breaking into a warehouse and torturing a cat before deciding to see if they can hit the roof of a passing vehicle with a large rock.

The show utilizes only an aluminum ladder, a pair of sawhorses, the two guitars and accompanying amplification equipment to suggest the environment; everything else is left up to the performers, who mime the majority of their actions and utilize both their voices and the guitars to create sound effects. This minimalist approach works wonderfully well, stimulating the imagination and forging a connection with the audience members, who are occasionally dragged directly into the world of the piece. For example, in a scene where the boys are running away from the scene of one of their crimes, Nantsou and Lycos literally climb over patrons seated in the first few rows, as if making their way through hedges and other obstacles.

Nantsou relies primarily on external mannerisms to create his character, utilizing exaggerated facial expressions and a confident swagger. He convincingly acts the part of the bully, although we also come to understand some of the insecurities that have resulted in the character's tough façade. Lycos, on the other hand, seems to completely embody the shy, scared boy he portrays. His small frame aids in the illusion of the character's youth, and his more emotional moments -- such as his confession to the police -- seem deeply connected to his inner being.

In addition to the boys, the two actors portray a pair of adult police officers investigating the case. The first time Lycos doffs the hat that he wears as the boy and transforms into a gray-haired cop, the change is startling. The older characters allow for a different perspective on the events within the play; as they pass the time in a bar while awaiting the jury's deliberation on the fate of the boys, both officers raise some thorny questions that are posed not just to each other but also to the audience. Inevitably, the decision handed down by the jury is not of paramount importance; we are called upon to make our own judgments.


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