Charles Cissel’s new play, MUST is playing Off-Broadway at St. Clements, a real theater and also an Episcopal Church that celebrates social activism.
The spare rustic-modern scenic design feels like the West. There’s smart lighting, cool sound design, and really good costumes. Unseen fog machines churn out a desolate mist that wraps around rocks, boots and solitary characters, clinging like grim death. Billy the Kid (Brendan Dooling) sees dead people. They talk to him in precious wordings, more poetry than drama. Billy, who has been going through some changes,feels that he must make Sheriff Pat Garrett understand his personal transformation, so Garrett won’t shoot him. Of course, everyone knows how that works out.
John Clarence Stewart as Pat Garrett manages to inject some life into his lines, but due to the static, measured nature of their recitations it’s hard to tell about the other, no doubt fine, equity actors (Meredith Antoian, Mark Elliot Wilson, Sally Ann Triplett). While the slow formality of Gabriel Vega Weissman’s direction honors the show’s intentions, the pacing proves too deadly even for dead people.
The producer’s name catches your eye: MUST is presented by Bruce Willis and the Burgess Group. Playwright Charles Cissel is a NYC bartender. His friend Bruce Willis, once upon a time tended bar at a couple of long-gone establishments, and it’s heartwarming that Willis has come through for him. But Charles Cissel, as evidenced by the sad, staged poetics of Billy the Kid, is much more likely a poet than a playwright.
[The Theater at St. Clements, 46th St at 9th Ave, NYC] October 30–November 19, 2017. stclementsnyc.org