Personal Effects, a Tale of the Dispossessed, Circle Theatre. “Is he mad?” asks a classic mystery plot of its hero, leading the audience to one conclusion, then flipping to reveal the truth. Sometimes he turns out sane after all, as in Invasion of the Body Snatchers; more often he doesn’t, as in Fight Club or Nabokov’s Despair. Essentially reducing the dramatic arc to a single gesture, this narrative strategy leaves no room for error–tip the twist or botch its execution and you’re in serious trouble. Do both–like Douglas Post in Personal Effects, whose telegraphed resolution is even more far-fetched than the implausible setup–and you’re done for.
The problems don’t stop there. This kind of presto-chango routine trades largely on misdirection, via information withheld or disguised, but Post’s characters seem confused, inexplicably ignorant of their own histories, and none of their actions makes much sense. The story unfolds in monotonously declarative segments stiffly strung together, and the boilerplate revelations can’t possibly justify their elephantine disclosure.
Jon Fraizer’s set, Neil Anderson’s lights, and the uncredited sound are nicely done, however, evoking appropriate anxiety and menace. And if the cast isn’t perfect, it certainly deserves better material than this; Jen Albert, David Hoke, and Jim Schmid all do good work, and newcomer Dan Holahan is positively stalwart. But as Ty Perry’s autopilot direction offers them scant assistance, the play remains a battle they’re doomed to lose.