- By Alan Ball
- Directed by Serge Seiden
- Produced by Studio Theater 2ndStage
- Reviewed by Janice Cane
Which is worse-a play whose first act is stronger than its second, or vice versa? Is it better to be drawn into a story and then disappointed after intermission, or is it better to have your patience throughout a tedious and disjointed first act rewarded with a stronger, more coherent Act 2?
I’m not sure of the answer, but I do know that All That I Will Ever Be falls into the latter category. It didn’t help that my view was often obscured. The play opened with a full-on view of a guy’s back. In fact, about half of the scenes began that way for me. Even if it was Carlos Candelario’s chiseled bare back, this was frustrating, as I missed a large percentage of the play’s tense, emotional confrontations. To try to avoid a similar fate, don’t choose a seat (it’s general seating) immediately to your right when you walk in the theater.
Candelario plays a character who would rather play other characters than himself. Omar is in retail-phone systems by day, his body by night, selling the latest version of himself-Arabian stallion, Greek god-to other men. He repeatedly insists he must prostitute to maintain a steady cash flow, but it becomes painfully clear by Act 2 that Omar could never give up the business, even for love, because it lets him create a more interesting past than the one he can rightfully claim.
It is Omar’s troubled past that captures the heart of Dwight, a rich college dropout and weed dealer who hides behind his mother’s suicide as an excuse for failure. Naked in a hot tub (a neat little set trick courtesy of designer Luciana Stecconi), Dwight describes the moment he found his mother’s body, not sparing any gruesome detail. He is completely vulnerable, and Omar loses his customary smirk as he gently strokes Dwight’s leg.
In moments like these, Candelario and Parker Dixon, as Dwight, shine. But for the most part, I was unable to forget they were acting. This wasn’t their fault; rather, I blame Alan Ball. As an ardent Six Feet Under fan, I hate to say that. But All That I Will Ever Be does not showcase Ball’s ability to create an emotional connection between characters and the audience. Some might argue a play could never accomplish what a five-season TV drama did, but I beg to differ. For evidence, I recall another play I saw at Studio, in 2006. Frozen was easily the best theatrical production I have seen-no, experienced-in Washington. Two years later, I remain as enraptured with it as I am with Six Feet Under.
Ball just doesn’t deliver this time, mainly because he tries to cram too much into two hours. Dwight fixates on the ethnic differences between himself and Omar, while Omar obsesses about their socioeconomic differences. As if this weren’t enough, Ball throws religion into the mix with, among other things, allusions to Eden. As far as who’s supposed to be Adam, Eve, and the snake-well, I just don’t know. And I’m not sure Ball does, either.
Candelario and Dixon are supported by a large and capable cast. McKenzie Bowling particularly stands out in her minor role as Dwight’s friend Beth. In her few short moments on stage, she effectively conveys genuine delight, curiosity, indignant rage, and regret. Chris Dinolfo also shines as Eddie, a young man questioning his sexual identity who gets more than he bargained for with “Carlito,” Omar’s final incarnation. This last scene is a bit bizarre, but Ball’s intentions are clear, and I found myself at last drawn into the play. Unfortunately, it was too little too late.
Play contains nudity.
- Running Time: 2:00 with 10-minute intermission
- When: Thru March 9. Wednesday – Saturday at 8:30, and Sunday at 7:30.
- Where: Studio Theatre Stage 4, 1501 14th Street, N.W. Washington, DC
- Tickets: $29
- Call: 202-331-3300 or consult the website.