Monday, August 13, 2007

The Hanging of Razor Brown

Some southern gothic for late summer in New York. Le Wilhelm’s play has it all -- racism, alcoholism, a degenerate character from a leading family and a deep dark secret of the sexual kind. The ghost of Tennessee Williams roams the stage at 59E59 Theater C in this story, set in 1923 in a small fictional Florida town on the day of a hanging.
Madame Lecompte, the French teacher, has brought three of her students, young ladies done up in their finest frocks for the occasion, to witness the hanging. Safely removed from the carnival held in the town square to celebrate the event, the four watch from the local graveyard, which affords them a good view, while supposedly maintaining their dignity.
“It’s a paltry turnout to what they used to have when I was a girl,” Madame Lecompte says. “I haven’t been to a hanging in so long. I remember them as so much fun.”
The “star” of the day is Razor Brown, who used to work for Madame and who has been found guilty of stealing a pony. Although evidence surfaces to prove him innocent, town officials are too happy with the celebration of his hanging to listen. In fact, he’s put on display.
“He’ll have to stand around awhile so people can get a good look at him,” Madame tells her students, who are becoming increasingly unsettled by the whole spectacle. She says they must watch because “it’s part of growing up.”
And part of growing up in that time and place involves the acceptance of lies.
“They may be lies,” Madame says, “but they’re our lies. The truth would drive us quite insane.”
The chilling aspect of all this comes across better in the second act. I thought the first dragged a good bit, a sentiment I also heard expressed during intermission. The acting was solid across the board, so to make it a really tight and effective piece of theatre I’d like to see the play cut from its current two hours to 90 minutes without an intermission. Then there would be no distractions from the macabre world Mr. Wilhelm has created.

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