TimeLine Theatre Company. By Brett Neveu. Dir. Ed Sobel. With Juliet Hart, John Jenkins, David Parkes.
The one-act play is something of a theatrical dinosaur, snuffed out of a Darwinian producing market that can’t justifiably ask ticket buyers to cough up the regular prices for merely an hour’s worth of engagement. Then there’s the creative stigma of the form itself, often regarded as more of a playwright’s training wheels than a super-concentrated dramatic form capable of packing a harder wallop than a full-length tragedy. Brett Neveu’s 60-minute look at campus politics and personal responsibility isn’t as obvious a popcorn-pleaser as his 2006 blood-and-pulp satirical one-act The Earl, and it might leave some audiences shrugging. But Neveu’s seemingly low-stakes setup will creep up on you once it’s over with its mysterious and stealthy examination of a buck-passing America.
At a small liberal-arts college, a troubled student (we never see him) who’s returned from Iraq has started writing short stories filled with violent imagery. When an army officer (Hart) shows up to investigate the possibility of post-traumatic stress disorder, a campus administrator (Jenkins) and a fiction professor (Parkes) get ensnared in a minor power struggle that might be about government spying, may be about the bush-league cowardice of academia or the unofficial censorship that occurs in a democracy, and is probably not at all about the Iraq war. Yet, although the acting in Sobel’s production is more pointed than necessary, and Neveu’s coffee-mug small talk can be occasionally unconvincing, TimeLine and Neveu have the nerve to ask you whom you believe, and then bring the curtain down before you’ve had adequate time to decide.—Christopher Piatt