Albany – The central issue in “Paris Time,” a play being given its world premiere by Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, is Anti-Semitism. With that as a topic how can you say the stakes aren’t high enough for the audience to care about the problems of its characters?
Perhaps it’s because that though the issue of Anti-Semitism is an important plot point – the play is really about other things – like corporate politics, the marital problems of expatriates and, perhaps most important, the idea of leaving a legacy.
That’s a lot for a play to cover, especially when the work runs only an hour and a half, including intermission. Indeed, playwright Steven Peterson would have a better chance at creating an absorbing piece of theater had he focused on only one or two of the issues.
As this stage of its development, “Paris Time” is merely an idea for a play, not a fully realized work with a point of view.
But back to the stakes of the play: because the stakes are so low the important choices made by the characters seem drastic, illogical and downright silly.
The couple, Charlie and Deborah, have their hearts in the right place. Charles works for a large and important engineering firm where he oversees most of Europe. Recently the Paris office had an incident where a Jewish female employee was, because of her Jewishness, was harassed, threatened and terrified.
Deborah sees this as part of the Anti-Semitism movement that is polluting Paris and demands her husband and his company take a public stand against those who do damage to innocent people. Because the company is a huge multi-national organization they are reluctant to take too strong a public stance over what seems a minor incident.
Deborah is determined to help her young friend Reina and takes action to force the hands of her husband and the company. The problem is that even though Deborah might have right on her side, her actions are stupid, wrongheaded, and unproductive. Too, they are harmful to the career of her supportive husband.
Because Deborah’s overreaction is so poorly thought out and selfish, the audience loses sympathy for her as a person. Charlie’s passive response makes him seem a weakling and it gives their enemies the advantage. Once you stop caring about the people in a play who are supposed to be the good guys - the situation can only go downhill. And it does so rather quickly. Not only do we not care about the characters, the subplots about corporate intrigue and backstabbing seem contrived. The play loses its drive and it seems an exercise in silly.
Though Wally Dunn delivers a deliciously sly portrayal of the company’s manipulative CEO, the rest of the acting is functional and common place. It’s directed by the talented and experienced Gordon Greenberg. That he could do little to make the characters and the situation compelling gives a hint of the troubles in the material.
“Paris Time” continues at Capital Rep through Feb 18. For tickets and schedule information call 518-445-7469.
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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