EmptyNew York Theatre Workshop
Through March 11
When your script-writing resume has Oscar-winning "American Beauty" on it, never mind HBO's much-loved "Six Feet Under," expectations run unfairly high for each subsequent project.
That is Alan Ball's dilemma, and perhaps the reason that his return to playwriting, "All That I Will Ever Be," is a bit of a disappointment. Is it still worth seeing? Absolutely. But one can't ignore its flawed structure.
For starters, the opening scene and its follow-up could have been deleted. They not only contain silly dialogue but also provide pointless red herrings about the plot and its main character: a swarthy, thirtysomething, bisexual named Omar (Peter Macdissi) who sells phones by day, his body by night.
The core of the story revolves around Omar's relationship with a handsome, slightly younger trust-fund recipient who quickly progresses from client to boyfriend. But what also develops is a tale that keys in to a multitude of intriguing themes: the changing nature of love; whether one can truly know anyone; the importance of one's identity, cultural and otherwise; and the double-edged sword of intimacy.
As he did with some of his "Six Feet" characters, Ball writes with acute insight into the gay mindset while building an overall narrative that's wildly unpredictable and contains plenty of zinger-ending scenes. That's why he can be forgiven not only for the initial wrong turn but two weakly penned female characters and a finale that stretches credibility.
The largely unknown cast also is a big plus. As Omar, Macdissi hits all the right notes, going from motor-mouthed sass to heart-wrenching moments of silence, and from potentially violent madman to vulnerable victim. As he appears in his underwear much of the time, it doesn't hurt that Macdissi clearly has spent time at the gym.
Austin Lysy is a fine complement as Omar's lover, the ever-confused offspring of yet another dysfunctional family, while David Margulies hits it out of the ballpark in a crucial role as a been-there, done-that john. Rounding out the cast, Kandiss Edmundson and Victor Slezak impress as each juggles two roles, while Patch Darragh triumphantly tackles four, all carried off with aplomb.
Under Jo Bonney's slick direction, the pacing never lags, aided by sets from Neil Patel that are minimalist but consistently clever.
Yet, the script remains the crucial element here. Accordingly, "All That" proves that even a flawed work from Ball leaves viewers with plenty to think about and debate, long after the curtain has fallen.
ALL THAT I WILL EVER BE
Presented by New York Theatre Workshop
Playwright: Alan Ball
Director: Jo Bonney
Set designer: Neil Patel
Costume designer: Emilio Sosa
Lighting designer: David Lander
Sound designer: Darron L. West
Omar: Peter Macdissi
Dwight: Austin Lysy
Raymond: David Margulies
Chuck Bennett/Phil: Victor Slezak
Cynthia/Beth: Kandiss Edmundson
Eddie/Bart/Waiter/White Guy: Patch Darragh