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New York Theater

The Tragedy of John

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The Tragedy of John is a crisply written, neatly produced sort-of-romantic comedy. Its tragedy is that it leaves you in the mood of its disconnected hero: uninvolved.

The John of the title spends most of his time slouching disconsolately at the right end of his sofa while engaging in such activities as drinking beer and watching DVDs with his longtime buddy Steve. Sometimes three other guys show up for a poker game around the coffee table.

John (played with appropriate moroseness by Liam Joynt) also has a non-rent-paying roommate — or "guest," as he prefers to call her — Amy (a sympathetic Desirée Matthews), an old friend who's coming out of a bad marriage. She's been there for three months, but as John also likes to make clear, she's not his girlfriend. Amy would obviously have things otherwise, but it seems John had a bad experience in the past and fears some woman will again mess with his head. When Steve (an affable Nathan Brisby) shows up with Julia, a gal with whom he's smitten (a vivacious Christina Shipp), John is finally pulled from his stupor, if only briefly. John and Julia's fling leads to other upheavals among the four, and in the end John is left slouching on the couch, getting ready for another poker game.

Playwright Neal Zupancic tells his story in a lively manner: Nearly a score of scenes are crammed into some 80 intermissionless minutes, and director Corrine Neal and an attractive cast keep things clipping along nicely. The play, however, never pulls the audience into John's dilemma, and it's hard to understand what keeps his pals working so hard to pull him out of his funk. It's also hard to care. His mopey behavior gets tiresome pretty quickly.

The uncredited set design shows off a handsome slice of John's domicile, which, considering his malaise, is a bit too neat.

Presented by Theatre of the Expendable at the Studio Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St., NYC. April 28-May 13. Thu.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.com.

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