Apollinaire Theatre in Chelsea has earned a reputation for embracing edgy scripts and playing the heck out of them! Michael Perlman’s FROM WHITE PLAINS (running through Dec. 14th) is no exception. The subject is bullying and the dramatic fallout is intense.
National Public Radio recently reported the shocking results of a study of integrated anti-bullying programs (which had been part of junior high and high school curricula for at least five years). The study concluded that these programs made bullies smarter and savvier. They learned what teachers look for and they learned how not to get caught!
I could hardly believe my ears. If education doesn’t work, what’s then to be done? Since seeing Apollinaire’s FROM WHITE PLAINS, I’ve decided theater is the answer. All parties suffer in Perlman’s scenario. In fact, on the ride home, three of us debated who was hurt more in the play. We debated whether or not the victim should become a bully to right the wrong. In the play, a filmmaker has won his first Oscar based on real events about bullying. He dedicates the statue to the victim who killed himself when they were in high school together. Then, on national television, he names the high school bully.
At first, the grown man who “teased” kids in high school can’t even remember his victim. He admits he was an “asshole” to everyone in high school but, he tells a friend, he’s moved on and matured. Unfortunately for him, the whole world now knows his history and what’s past is now present in the very public arena of the internet. Bad things start to happen to him.
Director Danielle Fauteux Jacques’ lovely production is unerringly fair to both sides. The performances are so finely wrought that you find yourself, despite yourself, having sympathy for everyone involved. Brooks Reeves, as the filmmaker who ignites the firestorm by naming the bully, has an achingly beautiful, sorrowful speech about the power of a bully’s voice which every student in every school in the nation ought to hear. Reeves draws you in to his pain and you understand why he has to pursue the bully (Steven DeMarco in a tour de force), even to the detriment of his own happiness.
Diego Buscaglia gives a sweet, beatific performance as the man who wants to “save” the filmmaker from his obsession with the bully and Mauro Canepa as the bully’s estranged best friend shows us his distress over his ambivalence. Some of the early scenes seem repetitive but once the plot kicks in, FROM WHITE PLAINS works like gangbusters.