“The Qualification of Douglas Evans” at Walkerspace (Closed Saturday August 9, 2014)

July 14, 2014 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
Written by Derek Ahonen
Directed by James Kautz
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Douglas Evans (Derek Ahonen) is the perfect anti-hero in his anti-epic “The Qualification of Douglas Evans” currently running in repertory with “Enter at Forest Lawn” at Walkerspace in New York City. This protagonist struggles with his addiction to alcohol as the codependent son of an alcoholic father (Penny Bittone) and completely codependent mother (Barbara Weetman). The audience experiences this playwright want-to-be fall into addiction and reenter the addictive cycle in an ever circling gyre.

Douglas Evans’s journey is complex and although Mr. Ahonen’s writing and acting attempt to capture the tortured soul of an alcoholic, the script depends too heavily on successive flashbacks and concurrent action (past and present on stage at the same time). The audience understands that anyone Douglas meets or loves or harms (Jessica, Holly, Kimmy, Cara, or Robin) will in essence be his mother and father. Delusional behavior, projection, transference, and identification are all part of the matrix of addictive behavior. As playwright, Mr. Ahonen can trust the audience to understand this quickly. The audience wants a more substantive Douglas Evans and a clearer understanding of his conflicts and what would truly be required to ‘qualify’ him.

As it stands, those undefined conflicts paired with a less than resolved conflict drive a series of repetitive plots that begin to wear thin. If only the play clearly reflected Robin’s (Agatha Nowicki) weltanschauung which she summarizes in a conversation with Douglas:

ROBIN: No. You have to remember. We’re animals. Pure, innocent and full of love. But we’re also susceptible to evil influences. You know… Like mice in labs? When they keep going for
Something that’s bad for them cause they’re prisoners of their bodies? That’s us. We’re vulnerable too and we have to spend our lives rising above our spiritual, emotional, and physical weaknesses. But it’s completely okay to fail. Just gotta get back on that horse and keep pushing for greatness.

“The Qualification of Douglas Evans” is overwrought and overlong. Addiction is a serious and debilitating illness: the road to recovery is long and (like Odysseus’ path to Penelope) fraught with setbacks, temptations, blackouts, hallucinations, anger, and disappointment. The stage attempt to address the cycles of addiction, however, does not have to match the length of recovery. There is a solid and powerful ninety minutes in “The Qualification of Douglas Evans” and Mr. Ahonen and Mr. Kautz are more than capable of refashioning the play to a reasonable length without sacrificing any of the theatrical conventions they have consistently managed with excellence.

It is difficult for a playwright to cast himself as the protagonist in his own play (though, obviously, that’s Douglas Evans’s primary conflict) and equally difficult for the Founder and Artistic Director to direct the Founder and Associate Artistic Director: who provides the unbiased perspective and criticism needed? It would be interesting for this team to cast a new Douglas Evans and Mr. Ahonen and Mr. Kautz co-direct a ninety-minute version of “The Qualification of Douglas Evans.” This is just an unsolicited thought from a critic who passionately believes in the important work of the Amoralists.