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Towering truths in Frayn's wry drama

May 02 2008
Hap Erstein | Palm Beach Post

Man can build housing projects and engineer social change efficiently, if only he did not have to consider the consequences for the people affected. That is the way idealistic architect and liberal thinker David Kitzinger sees the world in Michael Frayn's Benefactors, a wry drama of good intentions gone astray, both in an urban redevelopment project and in human relationships. Frayn may be best-known for his knock-about backstage farce Noises Off, but one can see a similar intricate construction in this drama from the early 1980s. Although rarely revived, it transcends the political jabs at the Thatcher government when the play was new. Today, it is the interpersonal machinations that seem the most compelling. At least, that is the impression left by a taut, well-acted production at Palm Beach Dramaworks, the ... professional company that specializes in dusting off worthy scripts from the past. As David's project...runs into zoning problems, he is forced to reconfigure it into two 50-story skyscrapers... No one is more against the plan than contrarian Colin, a role well-tailored to Todd Allen Durkin, who adds an element of feeling to the character's peevishness... Michael St. Pierre's David is sheer paternalism in his desire to affect architectural change... Irene Adjan (Jane) comes the closest to a rational, moderate viewpoint, but keep your eye on Nanique Gheridian as Sheila, a dithering appendage at the beginning, who visibly grows from the Kitzingers' efforts of assistance, a metamorphosis that leads to an angry second act eruption. Benefactors pushes the physical limits of Dramaworks' space, but director J. Barry Lewis stages the play throughout the auditorium, aided by a detailed, naturalistic set by Michael Amico. Perhaps the company was prompted in its play selection by the residential towers that have cropped up in downtown West Palm Beach, but in reviving Frayn's cautionary tale they have uncovered a play of ideas that is both timeless and universal.