Gods of Autumn
Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy
Kennedy Theater; Progress Energy Center
Through Aug. 31
With a script and direction from Tony winner Jack Murphy and another Tony winner, Jarrod Emick, in the lead role, a certain amount of excitement swirled around Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy’s world premiere of Gods of Autumn. That excitement, unfortunately, soon evaporated over the course of a play that employs seemingly every pretentious cliché known to theater.
Let’s start with the plot, which can best be described as: “Tony Soprano, Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada and … I don’t know, one of the nuns from Doubt, all get cancer.”
At a hospital, mob fixer Jimmy (Emick), fashion magazine editor Evelyn (Dorothy Recasner Brown) and shy Mary (Broadway actress Jessica Phillips) regularly find themselves in the same room awaiting treatment while a black-clad gentleman called “The Other Part” (Holden Hansen) wanders about, interacting with each in the form of their internal monologue. Jimmy, who’s tormented by an earlier incident involving his girlfriend Bernadette (also Phillips), finds himself drawn into a relationship with Mary, while Mary hides a secret and Evelyn deals with her abandoned rural roots in the form of her mother (Gilly Conklin, who plays two other roles).
Where does this go wrong? For starters, there’s Jimmy and Bernadette’s Long Island accents, Evelyn’s hackneyed character, the voiceover that awkwardly announces the flashbacks, the rear-projection that even more awkwardly introduces the flashbacks, the absolutely painful moment where The Other Part wanders into the audiences as he explains his true nature, and the lame running gag about Indian doctors.
Emick and Phillips give their all to their parts, and an extended sequence in a vertically mounted bed set actually works well as a short play on its own. But they can’t overcome the shortcomings of a script and direction that substitute broad stereotypes for perspective and insight. If the play were rewritten to focus on the relationship between these people from different backgrounds who bond over impending death, then you might have a sensitive, powerful story. Gods has potential, but it desperately needs to trim its fat. —Zack Smith