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Clifford Chase's Winkie

Godlight Theatre Company's uneven production focuses on the media maelstrom surrounding a teddy bear accused of terrorism.

By New York City
Nick Paglino with Winkie in
Clifford Chase's Winkie
(© Sean Dooley)
Nick Paglino with Winkie in
Clifford Chase's Winkie
(© Sean Dooley)
A teddy bear is accused of terrorism in Clifford Chase's Winkie, presented by Godlight Theatre Company at 59E59 Theaters. Adapted from Chase's 2006 novel, Matt Pelfrey's script makes some significant departures from its source material -- not all of which works. The overall production, directed by Joe Tantalo, is likewise uneven.

The major difference between novel and play is the shift in its perspective. In the original work, we follow the course of events from the viewpoint of Winkie, a stuffed animal who has mysteriously come to life, and whose capture after government agents identify him as a suspected bomber, leads him on a Kafkaesque journey resulting in his imprisonment and trial.

The play focuses on the media maelstrom surrounding Winkie. (Maruti Evans' flash-heavy lighting design combines with Andrew Recinos' original music and the often bombastic sound design of Elizabeth Rhodes to create a rather chaotic feel.) Renowned television journalist Dan Abrams (played here by Elliot Hill) is now the key figure, presenting a documentary-style account of the Winkie phenomenon. The result is an intriguing commentary on the way the media conspires with reactionary voices to shape the discourse of terrorism in this post-9/11 world.

Winkie (voiced by Nick Paglino) does get to speak about his experiences in an extended monologue during the trial, but for much of the proceedings remains silent. This makes it harder for audience members to empathize with the bear, or to see the humanity and intelligence he possesses.

Hill physically resembles the real Dan Abrams, although the actor speaks with a British accent that the American reporter does not possess. He also has a compelling onstage presence that grounds the production, no matter how absurd the circumstances he's reporting on start to sound. Paglino has an intense focus when speaking as Winkie, which contrasts with the more soft-spoken demeanor he adopts when he plays the dual role of Clifford Chase, who comes to testify on the bear's behalf.

There's a strongly performed scene between Gregory Konow as Chief Reynolds and Geraldine Johns as Francoise, a nurse who befriends Winkie and is questioned as a result. The dialogue here sticks closely to what's found in the novel, and it is played by both actors with a straightforwardness that comically points out the absurdity of the interrogator's line of questioning. Adam Kee as Winkie's lawyer, and Sean Phillips as the prosecuting attorney also do some good work.

Unfortunately, the remaining actors consistently indulge in exaggerated portrayals that are far less interesting. For example, Abrams' interview with a pair of pro-Winkie supporters is performed so broadly by Chris Cipriano and Erin Wheelock that it is almost painful to watch. Michael Shimkin's turn as the judge presiding over the case could also use more subtlety.

And in fact, the main problem with the production is that it hits the audience over the head with its points, to the extent that it even changes what happens at the end of the trial to make it more dramatic. The brilliance of Chase's novel lies in its combination of satire and genuine human emotion. The stage version focuses primarily on the former, and misses out on telling a story that engages the heart as well as the mind.


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