When Leaving Las Vegas hit screens in 1995 it was embraced by critics for its powerful insight into the brutal spiral of alcoholism. Simultaneously, the film’s realism found no sympathy in those whose lives had been altered or destroyed by alcoholics.
A similar question is posed to audiences at the world premiere of Carey Crim’s play Conviction, on stage at Ventura’s Rubicon Theatre: When someone is convicted of a crime against innocence, what are the aftereffects on the rest of his life and do we sympathize?
Crim’s dialogue flows well, and five talented Equity actors bring the work to life. But while the script contains plenty of tension, it provides little insight into the lingering question: Why would a dedicated teacher cross the line with an underage student, risking his career, welfare and the safety of his family?
From the opening, Tom and Leigh Hodges (Tom Astor and Elyse Mirto) seem to be living a dream life at bullet-train speed and enjoying the scenery. Tom, a high school drama teacher, is fresh from a successful opening of a lengthy Shakespearian play. It is here, in the embrace of good wine, friends and intellectual discussion that a call comes from his principal that shatters his idyllic life; an accusation has been made by one of his students.
Leigh and their two closest friends, Bruce and Jayne (Joseph Fuqua and the excellent Julie Granata), stick together while Tom serves a three-year prison sentence, as they once endured Tom’s two-hour-and-48-minute play. The trio initially agrees it’s a case of he said/she said, but in the end Jayne outs Tom, having seen him being a bit too cozy with the girl in question. Bruce finds it hard to believe that Tom is a monster. “What if he’s both?” Jayne pleads.
Caught in the middle of the hell storm is Crim’s symbol of innocence, teenage son Nick (Daniel Burns). We watch the youngest Hodges go from carefree to a torn-at-the-knees, pot-smoking emo kid hiding behind a wall of sarcasm and loud music. Yet for all the abuse Nick endures, Burns relates the resilience and humor of youth despite the legacy of his father’s sins being visited upon him.
Upon Tom’s return, Leigh subtly displays her own doubts about her husband’s innocence. On the night of his return she sets up a bed on the couch where he’ll stay until he woos her back. It isn’t until Jayne returns and asks hard, simple questions (a theory she calls “Achmed’s Razor”) that the truth of Leigh and Tom’s relationship is exposed and sunlight begins to burn a permanent hole into the Hodges’ lifelong web.
The Rubicon’s hybrid set is composed partially of traditional walls, doors and steps and partially of glass tubing, perhaps a suggestion to those who shouldn’t cast stones, or a tip to a glass menagerie, an enclosure of the characters’ own making in which the audience is allowed to watch their behavior unfold.
Director Scott Schwartz does well to balance the script’s extended drama and maximize its humor, and ultimately leaves the final verdict to his audience: Do you think Tom is guilty? And in the end, can you sympathize?
Conviction through Sept. 28 at Rubicon Theatre, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura. 667-2900 or www.rubicontheatre.org.