A Mysterious Way


Reviewed: September 10, 2010
Venue: Red Room (85 East 4th Street, New York City)
Running Time: 40 minutes (no intermission)
Run: September 9-18, 2010

Written by: Steven Walters
Directed by: Barrett Hileman
Sound Design: Chris Monroe

Produced by: Firebone Theatre
Stage Manager/Assistant Director: Zach Dorn

Gene Francis as Kane
Alexander Richard as Gordon

A Mysterious Way - Not All That Mysterious

Steven Walters' play, which Firebone Theatre first produced in 2009, has Edward Albee's The Zoo Story stamped all over it: the two-people-on-a-bench set-up and a character (in this case named Kane, as in Abel) whose theological uncertainty leads to a murder. But while this interrogation of God's will in human life may have been shocking in 1959 when Albee loosed The Zoo Story onto the world, it has no bite a half-century later, which is why the play has no bite either, even though it ends with a murder and has vigorous performances from Gene Francis (Kane) and Alexander Richard (Gordon).

The arc of the play is simple. Kane and Gordon are both waiting for a train to Atlantic City, with this difference: Gordon is planning to visit his mother there, while Kane plans to blow up the train enroute. Kane murders Gordon, a gentle-souled Bible-reading Christian, as part of his challenge to God to use his divine powers to prevent such evils, and the play ends with a voiceover announcement that all train service has been suspended, hinting that while God did not save Gordon, he thwarted Kane by causing the system to malfunction.

But none of the action in Walters' play feels authentic or necessary, in part because he never gives any urgent reason for Kane to enlist and then kill Gordon. If Kane's objective is to test whether God would interfere with his plans, he could simply keep his mouth shut, get on the train, and see what would happen (assuming that God, being God, would know Kane's intentions).

The coincidences in the play also give it an inauthentic feel: the only other person on the platform at 3:30 AM just happens to be a Bible-reading fallen human being trying to work his way back into life from (it is hinted) some dissipations involving gambling, drinking, and sex -- in other words, the perfect foil for Kane's maneuvers. Perhaps we're meant to think that God put Gordon there so that Kane can have his means, but the neatness of the set-up just stretches believability a bit too much.

Albee's play struggled with the question of what do people do when they reach the end of their tethers -- a question any matured adult confronts on a daily basis. The core issue of A Mysterious Way -- does God intervene in human history to prevent evil -- is less compelling because it's less imperative in people's lives -- and, in any case, most evidence indicates that God doesn't intervene, which more or less settles the case and makes A Mysterious Way not mysterious at all.

Michael Bettencourt