Backroom politics can make for truly awesome drama, but Kenneth Lin’s Warrior Class drains the juice out of what could have been a far more enticing show.
Warrior is the second show to play this summer at the Second Stage Uptown venue, designated for up-and-coming works by emerging playwrights. One doesn’t expect perfection from these shows, but it is baffling how a show this lacking in drama has made it so far.
Warrior aims to set up slick triangle between rising New York Assemblyman Julius (Louis Ozawa Changchien), campaign manager Nathan (David Rasche) and Holly (Katharine Powell), Julius’ college girlfriend. But while there may be three sides to the story, none of the angles are as sharp as they could and should have been.
Warrior hinges on an issue between Julius and Holly stemming back to the days following their breakup. It should make us question Julius’ internal makeup, but it never really does. Instead, it just looks like Lin wants to tell us what to think instead of relying on his skill to let sparks fly.
Warrior is but a series of two-handers that never amount to a dramatic idea. We keep watching characters talk about a nearly two decades-old issue that may or may not still carry any weight, but whatever drama there is lies in the past, not onstage. They’re dancing about architecture instead of building something new. Characters discuss a conflict, but one never actually presents itself during the 95 minutes of onstage (in)action.
Additionally, director Evan Cabnet’s scenes—which take place in Andromache Chalfant’s quickly shifting sterile set pieces—are statically paced; a dramaturge should have trimmed these scenes down so they escalate at some sort of clipped pace. Instead, they go on too long and yield far too little. There is too little movement within each scene and too little gained from one to the next.
One can infer that the character that interests Lin the most is Nathan, the one who keeps moving the chess pieces around. It’s the only truly substantial role of the three, and Rasche treats his character as though it came directly out of the Shakespearean canon. Rasche makes Nathan’s Machiavellian machinations somehow excusable—the character is slick and manipulative, yet somehow the most trustworthy and open of the three.
Powell is effective in a less clearly defined role. We see how dredging up a painful memory has punctured old wounds and how she is savvy enough to size up her current situation, but Lin ultimately makes murky how much we faith we should place in her.
Changchien offers far less dimension and therefore insight into his character. In fact, his wooden characterization further deflates what is already a dramatically stillborn piece. One scene calling for Julius to explode remains wholly unconvincing, making one wish Cabnet had either trimmed the scene or directed it differently to arrive at a more believably dramatic outcome. Politics may be hell, but in Warrior, they play as more of a shrug.
Through Aug. 11, McGinn Cazale Theatre, 2162 Broadway, 4th Fl., 2st.com; $50.
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