“One evening in the lives of three 20-something suburban friends who find themselves at a crossroads. A bittersweet look at a contemporary male friendship in decline.”
So described by the New Ohio Theatre, Joseph Gallo’s Two-Man Kidnapping Rule is a story that meanders at first – and could have done with some judicious cutting, particularly in the early stages of the work – but ultimately winds its themes and characters to their inevitable positions. While protagonist Jack (Curran Connor) finds a way to outgrow his old ex, his friend Vincent (Duane Cooper) and their buddy Seth (Andy Lutz), who has just proposed to his girlfriend, make journeys that are largely telegraphed, but still satisfying.
As the Barney Stinson of Gallo’s motley crew, Vincent is committed to protecting his relationship with his bros – no matter what the cost to their respective love lives. Over the course of the play, we learn about why he’s so committed to this – and why the titular “two-man kidnapping rule” is so sacred to him.
I don’t love Robin A. Paterson’s approach to directing this piece, which still needs tightening when it comes to getting the rhythm of Gallo’s rapid-fire dialogue sequences to shine. These moments could have been better excavated and timed with a firmer hand, and perhaps a more physical approach to the text. Then again, physicality itself seems a challenge with Gallo’s play, where action takes place in static scenes containing little theatrically necessary movement. Scenes take place in a living room, a bar bathroom and a car (and a strange, ATM-light-lit aside), all constructed from a basic furniture.
In Two-Man Kidnapping Rule, Gallo and his characters question not just their own romantic relationships, they’re questioning basic assumptions about what it means to be a man, a man in love, a man for whom a relationship has ended – without being condescending, or acknowledging the women in their lives as anything less than equally complicated creatures. While there are the requisite throwaway lines about jerking off and hooking up, all three of the men involved in this “kidnapping” are presented as three-dimensional characters with fully-developed backstories.
And now for the spoiler-y quibble:
One thread Gallo never follows to its natural conclusion starts with a phone conversation at the beginning of act two. In this conversation, Jack speaks to someone privately over the phone, and because of what he says and how he behaves, a reasonable assumption can be made as to who he was speaking to. Later, however, he claims to have been speaking to someone else entirely.
Now, it’s not that I have a problem with misdirection, but the way this setup took place, the question that sprang to mind wasn’t “wait, did I misunderstand something?” Instead, it was, “Why is he lying to his friend, and what’s the payoff for this going to be?”
What’s more, this logic worked – right up to the play’s climactic confession, where Jack is instantly dissuaded from going to pursue his ex. That’s when I realized that he had, in fact, been telling the truth earlier – and that I had been watching half the play with the wrong idea of what was taking place. This indicates a level of ambiguity in either the construction or portrayal Jack’s character which, in my opinion, doesn’t serve the play.
This show might be better served with a tighter pace and/or a bit more trimming, but it’s also worth waiting the two hours to watch it unfold – as long as you bear in mind that it’s the journey that matters, and not the destination.
Formerly located in SoHo on Wooster Street, the New Ohio Theatre is now in the West Village on Christopher Street.