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Because I Said So

ere's an old saw about the 17-year-old kid who thinks his father is stupid, and at 21 is amazed at how much his father has learned. But give it a little twist and it sounds more original: The kid is educated in England, is brilliant, and works as a teacher. The father is in the States and is illiterate. The kid returns to teach the old man how to read. This gives them a chance to work out their differences, anxieties, anger, and frustrations--or it might have, in a richer script. The resolution is unconvincing when, after an hour and a half of shouting, bickering, and endless repetition about grammar, their final embrace seems tacked on. Indeed, most of Raymond J. Barry's play appears uneasily tacked together, like all those aimless plays from the late 1960s and '70s, when all that was thought necessary was a good moment here and there for the actor to be outlandish and overboard. Father is pretty stupid to begin with. When Son writes on the black wall of the stage, "A noun is a word describing a person, place, or thing," the basic concept is totally beyond Father. This all is pretty dull listening. Father wants to hug Son, but Son refuses because guys don't do that. Conversely, Father is sent into an angry fit when Son talks about love between a father and son, because guys don't talk that way. The background to their relationship is never mentioned. Why was Son in England being educated? How did Father earn a living if he couldn't read? Where was Mother during all this? Who are these people? Barry obviously wasn't enough interested in them to give them much of a core, and apparently thought it was cool to write a play about an illiterate man whose son was educated in England so they could emote all over the stage for a while. Director John Ferraro fortunately keeps it all moving quickly and tries to eke out what meaning he can from the script. As Father, Barry stands around blandly most of the time, saying his lines without much subtext, reveling in those moments when he can violently throw himself over the table centerstage and do a whole scene face down, or do another scene facing a wall. Russell Milton is more successful as Son, but his tendency toward emotional violence is a one-note coverup for another lack of subtext, which the script doesn't provide for either acto

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