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New York City - Theatre

Tom O'Keefe, Johnny Pruitt, and Ryan Templeton
in A Hard Wall At High Speed
Photo Credit: Jen Maufrais Kelly

Ashlin Halfnight’s
A Hard Wall at High Speed

Through November 19, 2011
Good Shepherd United Methodist Church

Reviewed by Arlene McKanic

The reviewer has been saying his for years, but Ashlin Halfnight’s brilliant A Hard Wall at High Speed, produced by the Astoria Performing Arts Center, is making her say it again: some of the best theater is going on in Queens. And to hear some producers speak, the best theater is going to stay in Queens, as a surprising number of them have no burning desire to get to Broadway. So, if the theater aficionado wants to see some really good work, they’ll have to get on the subway and get out there.

A Hard Wall at High Speed is about Donnie and his family, who live in Florida in the early years of the 21st century. Donnie’s a licensed pilot, intoxicated by the miracle, beauty and power of flight, and proud of his role as the person who introduces other people to it. Then 9/11 happens. It’s learned that Donnie taught some of the hijackers, and he becomes a victim of the sheer irrationality that gripped the country in those days. People actually blame him for the catastrophe, and he’s made a pariah, unfairly, illogically and infuriatingly.

Tom O’Keefe is Donnie, heart breaking as we watch him slide from a responsible, somewhat uptight family man into a sodden, alcoholic wreck stripped of one of the things that gave his life meaning. But the beauty of O’Keefe’s performance, and Halfnight’s words, lets us know that Donnie was stripped of some but not all of his hope. Johnny Pruitt is excellent as his brother Trout. We first see Trout as a potty-mouthed dope with his baseball cap on backwards who’s keeping a floozy in the basement he rents from his brother. Slowly, their roles are reversed as tragedy enfolds the family and the nation and Trout has to quickly grow up.

Sarah Kate Jackson is amazing as June, Donnie’s wife. While we can see that she loves her husband, we also know that she doesn’t tolerate nonsense. When we meet her she’s at a point in her life and marriage where she simply can’t. She’s pregnant and the baby is born half way through the play. She has to be a grown up, even if her husband won’t be. Jackson’s talent is such that though she gives full voice to her resentment and bewilderment, her basic core of decency and compassion is untouched. Like O’Keefe’s, hers is an utterly brave performance.

Marcy, played by Ryan Templeton, is Trout’s girlfriend, whose intelligence and capacity for empathy are sometimes hidden behind her scanty clothing and seeming ditzyness. Yes, she’s a little bit in love with Donnie, but she has too much integrity to act on her feelings, no matter what June thinks. Yes, she’s somewhat in love with Trout, but is unsure whether she wants to be a Navy wife. One of the play’s most riveting scenes is when Donnie locks himself in his bedroom with a gun when she’s alone with him in the house, and doesn’t know what to do. That’s simply it; Marcy’s terrified, doesn’t know if Donnie’s going to kill himself, and she doesn’t know what to do. Templeton lets her character and the scene do what they both have to do.

The crew is perfection and unshowy about it. Produced after months of a fraught preproduction period, Wall is beautifully directed by May Adrales. The action takes place on one set, meticulously designed by Stephen K. Dobay, with props designed by Ashley Cavadas and wonderfully lit by Cat Tate Starmer. The light coming in through the kitchen window is so like southern morning sunshine that a transplanted southerner will bite their lip. The sound, designed by Nathan A. Roberts, is made up of ordinary noises you wouldn’t notice but that give the play another layer of reality till that reality is punctured by reports of 9/11 over an unseen television. The costumes, from Marcy’s tiny get-ups to Trout’s Navy whites, are designed by Becky Bodurtha.

So here is what you do. Make a reservation at the The Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Astoria, take the N or Q train to 30th Street, and walk a few blocks to see one of the best plays of the season.

Ticket Price: Adults: $18.00; Students/Seniors: $12.00





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