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Jonestown Revisited

Moira MacDonald and Dan Moran in 29th Street Rep's Production of "Hiding Behind Comets." Photo by Fouad Salloum.

"Hiding Behind Comets"
Directed by David Mogentale
29th Street Rep
212 West 29th Street between 7th and 8th avenues
Opened Feb. 15, plays through March 13
Thurs. thru Mon. at 8 p.m.
$19 (TDF vouchers accepted) (212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Feb. 18, 2005

On Nov. 18, 1978, cult leader Jim Jones ordered over 900 of his followers in Jamestown, Guyana, including 270 children, to drink punch laced with cyanide. Anyone who refused to drink was shot by a guard.

With Brian Dykstra's Jamestown-inspired "Hiding Behind Comets," 29th Street once again blends the sordid and the surreal.

Playwright Dykstra achieved considerable notoriety when after reading Hiding Behind Comets, the Rosenthal family, sponsors of a new play award at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, pulled its financing in 2004 due to the play's "content, graphic language and sexuality."

David Mogentale in his directorial debut (he's acted in 23 plays at the 29th Street Rep, most recently as Jack Henry Abbot in "The Belly of the Beast Revisited"), doesn't clean up the language or soften the message, although it must be said that nothing even mildly sexual ever actually happens onstage.

Hiding Behind Comets is set in a gritty neighborhood bar in a nameless town in Northern California (Mark Symezak provides the scenic design). Fraternal twins Troy (Robert Mollohan) and Honey (Moira MacDonald) mind their father's bar when they're not sleeping around. On the particular night in question, there's a party going on and Honey wants Troy to close up early so they can go to the party and get drunk and laid.

The twins, it must be noted, have a peculiarly close relationship. They often find themselves miraculously in the same place and thinking the same thoughts. This is amply demonstrated when Honey has an orgasm upstairs in the bar while Troy is having sex with her best friend Erin (Amber Gallery) downstairs in the storeroom.

The first part of the play is notable mostly for the myriad expressions the author employs for the act of sexual intercourse. For some it may be a bit of an education. But when in walks a surly stranger named Cole (Dan Moran) who relates how he escaped Jonestown by killing everyone in sight and claims the twins may be his children if they aren't Jones's, the action really takes off

Hiding Behind Comets might have been riveting drama. Indeed there are scenes that have many in the audience sitting at the edge of their seats. But the writing is marred by endless repetition and a lack of cohesion.

What is the significance of the twins' unusual relationship in light of their dubious parentage? What happens to Erin, and why is she even in the play?

Moran is convincing in both his brutal, monosyllabic answers and his extended monologues. He skillfully alternates violent outbursts with an unemotional delivery to convey the barren insanity of his world.

Gallery and MacDonald work well together as a kind of licentious Bobbsey Twins. But Mollohan is disappointing as Honey's nice-guy brother.

It's not so much that Mollohan is clueless. It's that even when he finds out what's going on, he reacts more like a kid whose date has just jilted him the evening of the prom than a young man whose life is being threatened.

It's hard to tell whether Dykstra was attempting to make thoughtful comments on violence and cults or just trying to titillate his audience. Either way, despite many bone-chilling scenes, the drama left this reviewer cold. [Simmons]

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