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Time Out Theater Review: 'The Long Shrift'

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Film star James Franco is at the helm of the new off-Broadway play "The Long Shrift." Time Out New York's David Cote filed the following review for NY1.

Many plays include what you call a "thankless part," a role that's functional rather than rich and compelling. Curiously, novelist Robert Boswell's "The Long Shrift," directed by movie star James Franco, is peopled entirely with thankless roles. chess pieces on a dull board.

At issue in this suspense drama is the guilt or innocence of Richard, who was accused of raping a female classmate during senior year and spent five years in a Texas state penitentiary for it. The play follows his uneven road to redemption, helped by a kindly Vietnam vet father. Richard's mother, played by Ally Sheedy, is more ambivalent toward her socially awkward and resentful son. She thinks he may have done it.

The centerpiece of this 100-minute play is a pathetic revenge scene at Richard and Beth's 10th high school reunion, organized by the young and impressionable Macy, who draws both Richard's lust and arrested-development contempt. While such morally charged subject matter ought to rivet attention, Boswell doesn't have the dramaturgical chops to bring it off. None of his sketchy figures captures our sympathy, and the dialogue sags under exposition and heavy-handed symbols.

Still, it's a sign of director James Franco's aptitude for mood that actors achieve moments of intensity and complexity. The final scene, in which Richard and his accuser Beth grope toward reconciliation, is almost satisfying. Up-and-coming Scott Haze has some raw, jittery appeal, but Richard is a stubbornly shallow antihero, a creep who was wronged. Or maybe he wasn't?

It's hard to focus on any single character's fate when they're all given, yes, such short shrift.

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