Friday, August 23, 2013

REVIEW: "The Harder Courage," a New Play by Leslie Slape

This evening I saw the staged reading of local playwright Leslie Slape's new play "The Harder Courage" about the first Washington State hanging. It is the story of a developing friendship between a sheriff and a convict as he awaits his death. Several moral dilemmas are discussed without casting judgement so that the viewers can wrestle with the issues on their own. The play is based on actual historical events.

It is a work in progress with audience discussion and feedback after the show designed to help the playwright further develop the piece. In fact, I am told, this week's presentation was different from last week's. While destined to be a full-length play, the work is currently the length of a one act (about 40 minutes), though has the structure of a two act written for two men.

I really liked much of the dialogue and felt it allowed us into the psyche and emotions of the convicted man. One really feels like you get into the head of the man and sympathize with his remorse, regrets and reminiscence. This was not the case for the sheriff so much--at least until the he begins to reveal his secret. And that secret could have had more impact if the dialogue revealed more shame. As it is, it does not equal the crime of the convict and, therefore, has a lessor impact. With the right touches it could just as damning.

I also felt the story jumps in at a point where more set-up is in order. Perhaps this is part of what needs added. I see the play as three acts. The first act would begin with the convict turning himself in and progressing through some of the developing friendship. Act two would consist of much of what has, thus far, been written, ending with the question about the sheriff's secret and the prisoner's request for strawberries on the morning of his hanging. Act three would begin with the serving of the berries atop pound cake with whipped cream as a dessert, thus prompting the officer to reveal his secret. The act would then finish with the second scene as written.

Also, perhaps, some of the scenes could be developed into flashbacks, utilizing more of the players in the stories (and thereby more actors), as the men tell their stories. As a staged reading it was interesting for those of us who can appreciate words, but for most theater-goers it might lack needed visual interest. While the dialogue is very good--with some excellent word choices--I believe some good business would make this play riveting.

It will be interesting to see the final version of this play staged in full production. I believe this could be a most interesting and griping work. The play was directed by the playwright and the parts were read by two very talented Longview favorites: Scott L. Clark (as Sheriff Ben Holmes) and Michael R. Cheney (as the convict Robert T. Day).

The workshop play is showing at Longview's Stageworks Northwest through Sunday, August 25. Admission is by donation. Times and information can be found in the banner at the top of this post. For more information check out the website.

For another take on this play see the review at this site by Dennis Sparks.

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