For Back Stage. Here’s the review:
First produced by Seattle Repertory Theatre in 1992, “Eye of God” is actor Tim Blake Nelson’s first play. He later wrote the magnificent “The Grey Zone” and the good “Anadarko”; all were filmed. Theatre East’s production of “Eye of God,” however, marks the play’s New York debut. And now we know why it took so long to arrive.
Set in Kingfisher, Okla. (Nelson is a Tulsa native), the play offers parallel story lines that eventually meet. Ainsley (Valerie Redd), a beautiful young woman with a glass eye, awaits her dinner date, Jack (Judson Jones), a recent ex-con with whom she’s established a pen-pal relationship. Perhaps implausibly, they leap right into romance and marriage as Jack, who found spirituality while incarcerated, begins putting his life back together. Sprague (Benard Cummings), Jack’s parole officer, keeps an eye on him.
Meanwhile, the couple’s sassy waitress, Dorothy (Shorey Walker), is raising her shy, troubled teenage nephew, Tom (Ehad Berisha). We meet Tom separately-cornered by police officers Les (William Franke) and Glen (Matt Savins). Trembling in a flashlight’s glare, Tom is almost catatonic, soaked in blood. Did he commit a crime or see one? Rogers (Richard Mawe), the avuncular sheriff with a personal connection to the boy, must decide. Once he does, Nelson ties the tales together, with all their horrifying results. One needn’t be Agatha Christie to see it all coming.
Fortunately, there’s more quality in the production than the play. Walker offers a well-conceived waitress, while Mawe improves some of the less-convincing scenes by projecting a palpable sincerity. Jones, smoldering as Jack, is wise to reveal his character’s monstrous side slowly, acknowledging criminals as the layered, pitiful creatures they are.
While director Lisa Devine deftly stages the play on the modest Kirk Theatre stage, Robin Vest’s cluttered set is unhelpful, causing too many awkward entrances and exits. It’s left to Jessica M. Burgess’ lighting to effectively delineate the many locations. “Eye of God” is a promising first play, very uncomplicated in its design. Theatre East nails the acting, but on the visuals, it falls short.
Presented by Theatre East at the Kirk Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St., NYC. Oct. 7-17. Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Additional performance: Tue., Oct. 13, 7 p.m. (212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.com.