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Simon Says – A Concept, Not A Play


During tests of children on brain activity, professor Williston (Brian Murray) discovered striking psychic abilities in James (Anthony J. Goes) who’d been abandoned by his mother to the state. Excited by future research i.e. prospects, he became the orphan’s guardian and has raised him, studying, honing, and perhaps exploiting the young man’s talent to “channel” the other side. Simon is James’s spiritual alter ego, the soul that enters his body when in a trance. Private clients have supported them. Williston is working on a book and has pie-in-the-sky fantasies about Simon’s leading historical/archeological tours.

Anthony J. Goes, Vanessa Britting, Brian Murray

We first meet James returning from (playing in) a baseball game. He’s solicitous about the older man’s medications and ignores being warned off a beer before that evening’s session. The relationship is one of affection and habit.

Accidentally discovering a letter from the local college stating the old man stopped payment on a tuition check that would allow James to finish school (The actor is too old to make this feasible), his ward is furious. The two had a deal. He’d go to school during the day and channel evenings. James is tired of being “nothing but a science experiment.” This is the last straw. He’s leaving. Willitson justifies his action with the significance of what they’re doing.

Enter Annie (Vanessa Britting), a pretty young widow, skeptical of what’s being offered, but  desperate to contact her husband. The two were soul mates. Annie was driving when, through no fault of her own, a fatal accident occurred. James and she find one another sympathetically familiar, but he has to be talked into giving her the promised session. Changing his mind takes way too long.

Brian Murray, Anthony J. Goes, Vanessa Britting

The rest of the play is dense exposition. Simon enters/inhabits James (cue spastic gyration attributed to “vibrational influences” and soft enunciated voice) in various incarnations, ostensibly proving the existence of the soul. It seems Willitson, James, and Annie knew one another in a past life. Everything changes with acknowledgement.

Unfortunately, you might just as well read a tract on the subject (by a believer) for all the dramatic impact of this piece. Explanations replace dialogue, clichés take over for character illumination, and the whole package is too neatly tied with a bow.

Poor Anthony J. Goes has the unrewarding task of being occupied by spirits whose transition looks ridiculous and whose monologues mostly sink. Until he goes into a trance, the actor is fine.

Vanessa Britting, Brian Murray, Anthony J. Goes

Brian Murray is not always intelligible and sometimes off rhythm. A few obstreperous, paternal speeches remind us of more successful appearances. Vanessa Britting does a yeoman-like job and deserves better.

Director Myriam Cyr uses the staging area well. Interaction outside of Simon’s appearances lands credibly.

Janie Howland’s Set Design comprised of eclectic furniture that’s seen better days, dusty curtains, archaic collectibles, overlapping oriental carpets, and endless, piled up books sets the perfect scene. Cat Stramer’s Costume Design is eminently appropriate.

I actually have no issue with the premise of Simon Says, just with its script. A course on Mysticism (indicated in the program) doth not a playwright make.

Photos by Maria Baranova
Opening: Brian Murray and Anthony J. Goes

Simon Says by Mat Shaffer
Directed by Myriam Cyr
Lynn Redgrave Theater Culture Project
45 Bleecker Street
Through July 30, 2016