PLAY: “Tho It Were Ten Thousand Mile”
BY: William H.A. Williams
DIRECTOR: Maureen A. Kennedy
PRODUCING THEATRE: The Irish American Theatre Company of Cincinnati, Ohio
Please note: This is a script review, not a production review…but I couldn’t always help myself.
I don’t always have high expectations when I go to see a play, but I definitely have high standards. I also have a background in playwriting so while I am not the expert authority on scripts, I have a pretty solid concept of what makes a great play, a good play, a mediocre play, and in this case, the worst play ever: “Tho It Were Ten Thousand Mile” by William H.A. Williams.
The worst play ever actually started with some potential. As the lights faded (They were to do so approximately 487 times throughout the next 2 ½ hours of sheer agony, many times in the middle of a scene, or on the wrong half of the stage.), a sweet female voice singing a melodic version of the Robert Burns poem “A Red, Red Rose” filled the theatre. We were soon to be introduced to Fiona (Carrington Rowe), a college student/struggling folk singer. She would sing a reprise of the song several times onstage, all very effectively. However, my hopes that this was going to be 2014’s answer to “Once” were immediately dashed when the characters (in wordy, un-edited monologues that bogged the play down without ever enhancing the action or lack thereof) explained the premise. This attractive, 20-year-old girl was mourning the loss of her lover, a man in his 60s. Under the guise that she was reading some papers that he had left her containing the story of their “romance”, she whined and warbled her way through the opening pages of the play. The emotion was forced at best and verging on manipulative, all very one note. A simpler approach may have served a few of the lines better. The lines, however, did not serve her at all. The play proceeds to introduce us to a professor in his mid-60s (Mick McEvilley, in a plastic, one-dimensional role—more the script’s fault than the actor’s) who sees the folk singer on a YouTube video and proceeds to stalk her online until he obtains her contact information. Not wishing to appear creepy (too late), he sends her an email with a song he has written. You know, to the email he only had because he was an internet prowler. She, being a free and kind spirit we are told, fiercely independent we are told, responds, thanking him for the song, and (presumably since she didn’t know that she was dealing with a dirty old man who was drooling over her behind his computer screen) signs her name. Our dashing Don Juan (whose hair was sprayed into place so perfectly that it looked like a helmet) uses this bit of information to further his invasion of her privacy and find out where she goes to college. The fact that she is in college and he is a retired college professor is by no means a deterrent. The entire thing is portrayed by the (if you are reading this out loud, feel free to use air quotes) playwright as wildly romantic. I’m sure all the men in the audience over 50 were inwardly cheering. Meanwhile, I was pocket-dialing the police. Lecher McCreepy shows up at a place on campus where the college-aged girls who could easily be his granddaughter tend to jog, stating that he was “girl-watching”. (Ladies, please try to control yourselves. Lurkers are the new Ryan Gosling.) Of course, one of the joggers is the poor unsuspecting folk singer. He tries to control his heavy breathing long enough to invite her to meet for coffee to work on the song he had sent her. She, for reasons never acceptably explained, accepts. They then repeat to the audience what has just happened in more tedious monologues in case somebody didn’t follow the overly expositional dialogue and fact that McCreepy was pawing her and almost perceptibly panting at the sight of her in yoga pants.
They meet at a coffee shop. They both explain to the voices in their head that they are attracted to each other. The playwright even goes so far as to play the daddy issues card, making a point of mentioning that the girl (we’ll call her Electra from now on) had lost her father a few years back and is in bad head space about it. This is the stuff of which great love stories are made, folks. Electra says several times that McCreepy was looking at her too intensely and it scared her. Sadly, she does not break out the pepper spray. Instead, she continues to see him, while the playwright condescends to have them wax ineloquent about their burgeoning love, ending each agonizing soliloquy with what I can only imagine he thought was a probing or profound question such as “I was not in love with him. Or was I?” followed by a dramatic furrowing of the eyebrows and a light change. At some point during these monotonous scenes that took us absolutely nowhere, McCreepy kisses her. I dug my nails into my arm to keep from throwing up and hoped she would quickly file for a restraining order. I don’t know if it would have helped had the script or the acting established any sort of a real, palpable connection between the two, but regardless it was painful and awkward to watch.
We press on. The asides keep us moving with the grace of a derailed freight train. Now the two are a couple. He tells her he loves her. She runs away (finally, a position I can understand). The next time we see her, she has called him to pick her up from the train station in a rain storm (Because something ominous has happened, isn’t that clever? Don’t answer that.) He takes her to his house and she goes to take a shower, comes out in a bathrobe and proceeds to tell him, in a speech that could only have been written by a man who has never dealt with or known anyone who has dealt with sexual abuse, that she has been raped. McCreepy is most understanding. Most heroes are. He tells her that it wasn’t her fault. He then takes her to his bedroom and has sex with her. I can’t make this stuff up. It was at this point In the play where I started to count the lighting fixtures on the ceiling. 108, if you are wondering. I actually cannot remember what else happened before intermission because I started playing the “Cabaret” soundtrack in my head, but finally there was a merciful break. I should have left. I should have knocked a few tables over and burned the set to the ground, but I was morbidly curious if it could get any worse. So I stayed. I have only myself to blame.
The second act was not quite so traumatically offensive, but it was some of the worst writing I have ever seen performed. We were subjected to scene after scene that did not advance the plot. They would take longer than the human will can endure. Then the characters would reiterate what had just happened and what they were feeling (because, I guess, the playwright did not trust the actors or the writing to properly convey either without meticulously spelling it out). I knew that, logically, the play had to end eventually. However, 2 hours in, I was pretty sure that this guy had taken Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty a bit too literally.
McCreepy has a heart condition. You know, because he’s like 90. We have already been told that he is dead at the beginning of play. For some reason, the playwright still felt that it would be effective to try to keep the audience guessing. It was not. After another hour of talking in great detail about their sex life and seeing foxes in dreams that were supposed to symbolize his impending death, he finally bites the big one. I may have exaggerated this in my mind because I was so miserable (and it was so miserable), but I am fairly certain that the last monologue took 15 minutes. 15 minutes of Electra sobbing and finding different ways to say she is sad. Come to think of it, 15 minutes is generous. It must have been at least 8 or 9 hours. I have never been so physically uncomfortable (and not in a Sarah Kane, mind-blowing art sort of way) watching a play in my life. That includes high school musicals (which are my way of describing things as the 7th layer of hell), bad grade school plays where all the kids dress up as vegetables, and cruise ship Elvis impersonators. I took several showers to try to scrub the whole ordeal out of my head. It clearly did not work.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, the subject of Fiona’s sexual assault never comes up again. It is merely the catalyst that the male playwright used to force her into bed with his idea of a protagonist. How charming.
Please do not see this play. It isn’t the kind of B-horror film bad where you can laugh at the shortcomings. It is the kind of bad that sneaks up on you in an unlit alley, beats the shit out of you with a pipe, steals your wallet, and leaves you for dead. It was the worst play I have ever seen. It is demeaning toward women, marginalizes a horrific rape, and repeatedly insults the intelligence of the audience. It was at no time truthful, beautiful, poignant, or worthwhile. It was waterboarding with words. Do not go see it. Do not read it. Do not produce it. Let it disappear back into the black hole from which it crawled.