By Tom Wachunas
By the end of the first act of The Agency, the new play by Sherry Yanow and Deborah Fezelle currently showing at the Kathleen Howland Theatre (for a much too-short run of four shows), I thought I had resolved a few important questions (or mysteries, or ‘issues’) central to the plot. Oddly enough, this discovery, though perhaps making me feel a wee bit proud of myself, had the greater effect of making me suspect that the writing, or the directing by Fazelle, was somehow flawed in telegraphing such revelatory information too early in the proceedings.
Seriously, I’m really not all that smart. I’m fairly certain that many viewers could pick up on the same cues. Still, I remember thinking (in retrospect, maybe over-thinking)… now what? How can the rest of the story be anything but a drawing out of the inevitable? I couldn’t have been more wrong. And so it is that as Act II unfolded, the earlier reeling-in picked up truly startling momentum until I was ‘got’ - hook, line, and…thinker.
This psychological thriller is an intriguing collision of two narratives. One tells of ‘The Agency,’ a clandestine, non-governmental entity headed by Judge Gabe, looking to hire an assassin, Micah Gideon, to carry out its plan to track and eliminate a human target. The other is the story of Dr. Truman Warrik, who desperately seeks the help of his therapist, Dr. Stacy Lyons, in coming to terms with his terrifying, life-disrupting nightmares. And throughout the evening, just when you think you’ve got this thing figured out, like peeling an onion, another stinging layer of truth is exposed, made all the more pungent by the performances of the remarkable cast.
Rufus Malone, Jr., in his portrayal of the ostensibly generous, loving emergency room Dr. Truman Warrick who is undergoing hypnotherapy, is himself hypnotic to watch in his urgent, transformative struggle to reconcile lost childhood memories with the reality of his haunted present. An equally riveting transformation unfolds in Kevin Wells’ jarring portrait of Micah, the would-be hired killer who abandoned his wife to pursue his obsession with all things murderous. Wells brings a dark, pathologically chilling presence to the stage, fueled by his character’s hatred for the target. But his is a psychosis that morphs into something utterly unexpected.
Meanwhile, in his role of Judge Gabe, W. Bradley Vincent provides a convincing picture of the stern and cold Agency boss deciding whether or not to ultimately hire the uncomfortably cocky and volatile Micah. He enlists the services of Angelique to help assess Micah’s suitability and stability. In that role, the fiery Ariel Roberts is all business and protocol as she angrily butts heads with the arrogant assassin. But she, too, has secrets that will surface, as does therapist Dr. Stacy Lyons. To that role, Marilyn Wells brings real sincerity and warmth, displaying just the right degree of clinical dignity. But she’s also intensely fascinating if not unsettling as she detachedly refers to herself in the third person, speaking into her recording device of the pressing need to heal the deep wounds of her own dark past. Physician, heal thyself?
Rounding out the cast are Cynthia Gribble as Stephanie Warrick (Truman’s wife), and Andrew Bors as Detective Otto Polaski, who advises the Agency on Micah’s past involvement with police investigations. (Bors also composed the evening’s appropriately eerie and otherwise gripping incidental music.) Their performances, while short, nonetheless bring important background to understanding the big picture here, and are very credibly delivered.
So OK, back to those aforementioned crucial revelations from Act I. What are they and how do they inform and drive the rest of the ever-deepening (and in the end, unpredictable) story? If I told you I’d have to… I’d better think about this, huh?
The Agency, written by Sherry Yanow and Deborah Fezelle, directed by Deborah Fezelle, at the Kathleen Howland Theatre, located in the lower level of Second April Galerie, 324 Cleveland Ave. NW, downtown Canton. Shows are Friday, July 27 and Saturday July 28 at 8 p.m., and Sunday July 29 at 3 p.m. Tickets $10. Call for reservations at (330) 451 – 0924. http://www.secondapril.org/theagency
PHOTOS: (Top) Rufus Malone, Jr. (left), Kevin Wells / (Bottom) cast members, clockwise from top left: W. Bradley Vincent, Kevin Wells, Ariel Roberts, Marilyn Wells, Rufus Malone, Jr