Let me tell you about the very fine, courageous acting going on in a play called “The Clearing” by Jake Jeppson at St. Clements Church on 46th Street in mid-town Manhattan. Spoiler alert: if you do not want to know the BIG EVENT of the play and other secrets, stop reading now.
For everyone else, I will begin with the mother, Ella Ellis, played by Allison Daughtery. Think of her as Everymother. At one point in the play, an intrepid photographer asks to take some pictures of her in the nude. I thought, Oh no. That would be like watching my mother, who is in her 60’s, get naked onstage. Excruciating. So as Ms. Daughtery disrobed, I braced myself. And then a funny thing happened: as Ella, Daughtery became not only physically naked, but emotionally naked. Open. Vulnerable. Honest. To me, that scene was the highlight of the play. And folks, it is a long scene. It is also one of the bravest performances I have ever witnessed in a theater.
Brian McManamon as Les Ellis, Brian P. Murphy as Chris Ellis, his brother and Gene Gallerano, as Peter, Les’s lover who is also the photographer, are also wonderful but have to wade through a convoluted script with many holes and much signaling of what is to come a mile away.
I did not believe for a second that Les and Chris were brothers, or that they were remotely close; in the age of GPS and cell phones, I do not believe a father could jump off a cliff to his death and never be found; if Chris was schizophrenic, did no one think to perhaps get him on meds or institutionalize him instead of giving in to “arrested development”? Chris sees ghosts and hears voices; he has night terrors. He is also loud enough so his mother could hear him in the same house. Arrested development? Really? And once Chris told Les to go get Peter a stick for his marshmallows, I knew that Peter was going off the cliff by his hand. If I knew, Peter should have known. His character wasn’t stupid. The harder choice for the playwright would have been to let Peter live, and see how Ella and Chris fare alone. Will Chris have a breakdown? Will he finally tell his mother what he should have 18 years previously? Will Chris jump off the cliff himself (which would be more plausible)?
But those are rhetorical questions, as that was not the play I saw. “The Clearing” should be seen for these four magnificent actors. They deserve your time and attention. They also deserve a better play.