Youth and gun violence: the topic’s so unthinkable, a saint’s empathy couldn’t reach its bottomless agony. Nick Gandiello’s world premiere of The Blameless uses a multi-genre approach to the subject. But it’s several drafts and rethinkings away from effectiveness.
A year before the play starts — to the day — Jacob Davis shot and killed several college students and was shot in turn. Wanting something — though he isn’t quite sure what — Jacob’s father, Drew, asks to meet the families of the victims. Only the Garcias reply.
The family’s in varying stages of mourning. Explosive mother Diana (an at times over-the-top Antoinette Lavecchia) leads “Campus Carry,” an anti-gun-violence movement. Soft-spoken father Alex (Frank Pando) stifles hurtful feelings. Seventeen-year-old Theresa (Nataysha Rey) goes on a rule-breaking rampage and gets suspended from school two weeks for three-way sex in the props room. Alex’s fiery sister Amanda Garcia (Liza Colon-Zayas) has focused rage and questions demanding grounded answers.
The Old Globe’s in-the-round White Stage could be an industrial-strength pressure cooker at the tipping point.
Instead, The Blameless is a comedy about gun violence. Whenever a scene verges on the seriousness one would expect, a joke intrudes and deflates the tension. The jokes, which the actors push hard, are obviously deliberate, calculated to coax big guffaws.
It’s like watching two scripts battle for supremacy. One wants an honest confrontation; the other, in “don’t go there” denial, just wants to entertain. Keep things chipper. Avoid the pain.
The acting’s similar. As directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch, the extremes are too herky-jerky. They could reflect degrees of emotional instability, but they feel contrived.
The play builds to Drew’s arrival. It’s a media event: flashbulbs flicker outside; the unready Garcias fumble around like slapstick clowns.
But Blameless hasn’t figured Drew out, other than that he isn’t funny. He’s a cipher (and a “gringo,” which the script doesn’t go near). He gave a clichéd interview about his son being rather normal, did well in school; then acknowledges to the family that, well, Jacob may have been a little distant.
This take forces Stephen Barker Turner to play a negative. Drew is unassertive, trapped, doesn’t know what he wants. The Garcias strafe him with questions and righteous anger. But the production glosses over a key point: Drew also lost a son. Yet his grief comes as an afterthought. In the end, the family finally opens up to each other. The healing process begins with a family jaunt to Montauk. Drew just disappears.
They say the worst thing in life is to lose a child. No argument there. But what’s it like to be the father of a deceased villain? Here and elsewhere, The Blameless doesn’t face the implications of its subject.
Playing through March 26