From White Plains
“Just because it gets better doesn’t mean it didn’t happen” is the tagline of the Kitchen Theatre’s current production, “From White Plains.” The play gives an inside look into what it is like to bully and be bullied, and it shows that though people can learn from their actions, the past is never truly forgotten.
The story, written and directed by Michael Perlman, revolves around the incidents and people that inspired a fictional Oscar-winning movie about bullying. The play opens with Dennis (Karl Gregory) giving his Oscar acceptance speech on national television in which he boldly calls out the high-school bully whose actions resulted in the suicide of his friend Mitchell. Until that moment, when the acceptance speech aired live, the bully, Ethan (Aaron Rossini), was unaware of Mitchell’s passing and is shocked. He posts a public apology online, thinking it would remedy the situation after receiving public backlash on social media. But Dennis’ quest for justice leads to the pair exchanging public videos that discuss Ethan’s harmful actions. The videos ultimately result in Ethan and Dennis meeting in person for the first time since high school before they both appear on a talk show to discuss their video exchanges.
The most compelling aspect of “From White Plains” is the personal connection the actors make with audience members. Through the video battle between Ethan and Dennis, audience members are able to see bullying from two different perspectives. Ethan describes his position as a bully who is being called out for his actions. He apologizes, but claims he has grown up since high school, and he is not the same person he once was. Meanwhile, Dennis stands his ground and keeps shooting down Ethan’s apology, right to the end of the play.
Even though the actors’ performances are what really sell the story, the simple set and the Kitchen Theatre’s exceedingly intimate, thrust-style stage add to the viewing experience. A living room composed of blue furniture and hardwood floors successfully replicates both Ethan and Dennis’ separate living rooms, but it does not accommodate other scene locations, including a sports bar or the television station. A few scenes are even performed while the actors stand in a small area between the stage and the first row of audience members. The up-close-and-personal feel of the theater space is effective, but during some powerful scenes that take place off-stage, it is a bit overwhelming for audience members sitting in the first few rows.
The play includes technological props, such as the television premiere of Dennis’ Oscar speech and the online video fights. But, once again, the creative team chose to keep the play simple. Instead of having a projection screen show these different components, the actors convincingly acted out the elements. For example, the video battles were displayed by Dennis and Ethan simply sitting in front of their shiny, white MacBooks, speaking to them as if recording a video on a webcam. If they chose to take a more technological route with these ideas, the serious message of the play would have been blurred behind the flashy, unnecessary additions.
“From White Plains” is a sentimental play that proves simplicity is an effective theatrical element. Though the intimate setting is at times a little too intimate, the four all-star actors make up for that flaw with the help of a beautifully written script.