Nick Jones spent years developing, workshopping and fine-tuning Jollyship the Whiz-Bang, his wacky Off-Off Broadway puppet rock musical that had a strong run at Ars Nova. He follows it up with the kooky and confusing The Coward,
an ironic period comedy set in 18th-century England. Produced by LCT3,
Lincoln Center Theater’s "edgy" offshoot, Jones is being prepared for
Jones seems to be following the same trajectory as Alex Timbers—Les Freres Corbusier artistic director whose Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson received the imprimatur of The Public and went on to Broadway—and Kyle Jarrow, whose Hostage Song
should hopefully receive some big-time producer tutelage some day. The
comparisons can either be taken as praise or as a dig at that sort of
highly praised material that is meant to "develop new audiences" for the theater
by including indie actors and comedians with racy language and
references to popular culture.
Director Sam Gold (who also comes with his own bona fides as the director of Circle Mirror Transformation at Playwrights Horizon) and the
cast of mostly young, somewhat recognizable faces are doing their best
with weak and wearisome material. Jeremy Strong plays the young coward Lucidus who gets suckered into dueling as a macho display to impress his father (Richard Poe), and his high-pitched warble and fey ways are funny. He impressively manages to maintain the persona without becoming grating despite the perpetual physical and vocal one-liners. A scene with his foppish friends (Stephen Ellis and Steven Boyer) eating pies in the park is full of comic moments. When comedian Kristen Schaall is let loose to prance and preen on stage as Lucidus’ love interest Isabelle Dupree, she easily steals the show with her eye-rolls and quirky delivery. Christopher Evan Welch as Henry Blaine is the only actor who never really quite fits in. His hulking size (most recent’y seen in AMC’s short-lived Rubicon) may have been right for the role of a mercenary, but he just comes across flat and…bored.
By the time we get to the final duel scene (a six-way) and blood and guts are spilled, I was left with a So what? feeling. It’s the worst thing possible when we’re meant to be seeing new voices, new stories, new energy. Why stage a play with jokes and jibes but no real heft or clear point. The need to dig into period costumes and narratives is clearly in the air. Uptown from the Broadway theater, Lincoln Center Theater is presenting a much more daring piece with John Guare’s wordy and wonderful A Free Man of Color. Having both period pieces running simultaneously only shows how slight Jones’ attempt is. Here’s hoping he gets another chance, and this time we get something wild and witty and worthy of his formidable talents.
The Coward, Through Dec. 4, LCT3 at The Duke at 42nd Street,
229 W. 42nd St.