Sophistry @ Samuel Beckett Theatre, New York

cast list
Jonathan Hogan, Maximillian Osinski, Natalie Knepp, Mahira Kakkar, Ian Alda, Charlie Hewson, Michael Carbonaro, Ellen Dolan

directed by
James Warwick
Jonathan Marc Sherman’s 1993 play Sophistry, now being revived at the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row, is punctuated during its scene changes by 90s pop tunes that will certainly bring younger audiences back to their childhoods and teen years.

Taking place at a New England college in the early 1990s, the play, far from a masterpiece, is a loud, angsty examination of college mores, closing up on the sexual politics of university life by focusing on the alleged molestation of a student named Jack (Michael Carbonaro) by longstanding professor Whitey McCoy (Jonathan Hogan) and the troubled relationship between Xavier “Ex” Reynolds (Charlie Hewson) and his reporter girlfriend Robin (Natalie Knepp).

As Jack and Whitey tell their respective sides of the story it soon becomes clear that there’s no real way to come to a conclusion about Whitey’s innocence or guilt. Instead the administration, namely the college President, Quintana Matheson, makes the decision to let Whitey go.
They play itself is a flawed but interesting piece. It’s consistently entertaining because of many of the quirky performances here, including Charlie Hewson as Ex and Ian Alda as Ex’s Woody Allen-esque geek friend Igor.

As Whitey McCoy, Jonathan Hogan has the right smarmy earnestness to pull off the Rashomon-style moral balance of his character. We’re not supposed to be certain whether he’s done it or not (as in John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt), and Hogan maintains this sense of mystery well throughout, particularly as he reenacts both of the Whitey-Jack scenes, playing out the night in question from the perspective of each of the testifiers.

But overall, the play asks more questions than it’s prepared to address. The supblot involving Ex and Robin is less compelling and doesn’t quite interlock with the main plot as it should. It also seems strange that the character of Whitey disappears for the most part in the second act. Cozy college designs by set designer Charles Corcoran and costume designer Melissa Schlachtmeyer fit the bill just right, and director James Warwick keeps things moving apace toward their somewhat tepid conclusion.

Those looking for a flashback to the 90s with a bit of collegiate intrigue probably won’t be let down, but those looking for a really excoriating drama should look elsewhere, as they won’t find the real, scorching truths behind the scandal here, just the surface scuffs.

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