David Magentale in "The Conversation" by Leo Farley. Photo by Peter Sylvester.
Directed by Leo Farley
Adapted by Kate Harris
From the Francis Ford Coppola filmscript
Produced by 29th Street Rep
212 West 29th St., NYC
Reviewed April 24, 2008
Harry Caul is a storyteller of other people's real life stories. Normally characters in Harry Caul's stories don't know him. Nonetheless he's created their moment. Indeed, they wouldn't want to know Harry unless they too are electronic surveillance geeks. These mediated stories are intended to change and destroy lives.
Harry is a late 1960's bugger of conversations. He's one of the consummate professional in his field. Along with fascination with electronic bugging, Harry has a problem. As subtly and darkly played by David Mogentale, he also feels guilt, shame and remorse. Difficult emotions in most lives, grossly incompatible with clandestine eavesdropping.
Harry's personal world is obsessively private and secret. He won't tell anyone how to contact him. Not even his beautiful female lovers, who wait for their strange relationships to progress into confidence. Yet he feels love in his own way and is willing to financially support his child/woman called Amy (Amber Gallery). Julianne Carpenter knowingly plays the convention party hostess, ingenuously asking questions, getting angry, accepting and rejecting Harry with instantaneous changes. Both are seemingly too attentive, too affectionate. Or are they working girls? If so, working for whom besides themselves?In the 1960s it was still possible to be insular, guard one's privacy as sacred space, a condition we, living in the information age, can't even conceive. Unless we deliberately isolate ourselves from contemporary life. Harry would be a master computer hacker if he worked in today's bugging business. How things have changed.
Using modern jazz, mood lighting and a very spare set infuses The Conversation with a somber tone. Harry is thoughtful about his work, at once curious, cautious, angry and depressed. He must remain neutral, yet he can't because of his history. Mogentale captures these dichotomies making us sympathetic to a wholly unlikable man in an odious business.
Even more seedy is William P. Moran, Harry's colleague and nemesis. Tim Corcoran captures the back slapping. cunning strategies of this ambitious businessman as he challenges everything Harry believes. Their battle of the bugging giants is a telling piece of acting that had me rooting for sanity. Alas it doesn't win. It gets worse, morose and then turns bleak.
Caul and Moran are storytellers whose lives are entangled with their characters. Neither comes out unscathed. It's a shadowed and flawed battle with worthy talent donning the armor and masks. They tell their similar stories with two different styles, two different portrayals, each a master of his universe. Except for Harry's premonition of looming disaster. Harry is scared. It is from fear that we know Harry best.
The rest of the supporting cast give admirable performances. However this is Mogentale and Corcoran's tale told with intensity from Kate Harris' psychologically demanding adaptation of Coppola's cult movie. This is a play to remind us of our loss of privacy and our hope for its return.
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