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Night Maneuver

Howard Korder's tiresome play is partially redeemed by actors Anthony Carrona and Alexander Smith.

By New York City
Alexander Smith and Anthony Caronna
in Night Maneuver
(© Jordan Fleet)
Alexander Smith and Anthony Caronna
in Night Maneuver
(© Jordan Fleet)
The main question raised by Night Maneuver, now at the American Theatre of Actors, is how dramatist Howard Korder thought he could illuminate the lives of two brothers going absolutely nowhere by writing a play that -- after a promising first few minutes -- goes absolutely nowhere. The only truly good reasons to see this exercise in futility and repetition are the acting by Anthony Carrona and Alexander Smith and the direction and set design by Tom Bain.

Korder is best known these days for 1985's Boys' Life (due for a Second Stage revival later this fall). Interestingly enough, Night Maneuver could just as easily have been called by Boys' No Life. Lou (Caronna), ostensibly working at an auto parts outlet but more preoccupied by minor drug dealing, is playing host to younger brother Tim (Smith) in his low-rent apartment. What's clear from the get-go is that the only time pathetic nobody Lou feels he can exercise any power is when he's baiting younger and even more mentally dim Tim.

The action -- such as it is -- covers something like 24 hours in the boys' lives, when Tim is crashing on Lou's floor, and Lou is waiting for a phone call about an apparent drug deal that evidently means a lot to him. He takes advantage of the downtime by humiliating Tim and tricking him into at least one brother-on-brother wrestling match during which he cheats. Lou repeatedly demands that Tim clear out and just as repeatedly invites him to stay. Continually, he mocks Tim's friendship with someone named Petey, whose very existence is eventually called into question. Just as frequently, Lou reminds Tim how much he was disdained by their older brother Monty.

Many of the two-hander's gritty aspects are presented without much clarity. Since both Lou and Tim seem to be at least intermittently delusional, it remains an open question whether Lou's drug deal is even real or merely a figment of his demented imagination. Perhaps ambiguity was Korder's objective when he set his characters in flailing motion. If so, he miscalculated in his estimation of audience tolerance for so much unspecific information.

Nonetheless, the actors have found enough in Lou and Tim to sustain interest long past the time when the script has all but flattened concentration. Looking like a pair of toothpicks doing battle, they're fully caught up in the brother's enduring and debilitating rivalry. Caronna is on top of Lou's cowardly motives and Smith's dull-eyed, rootless Tim is a continual attention-getter. But otherwise, the only thing left to say after trying to derive meaning from an ultimately meaningless work is, "Oh, brother!"


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