For three years leading up to his execution, Timothy McVeigh corresponded with Gore Vidal, said Marilyn Stasio in Variety. The infamous Oklahoma City Bomber and the literary giant never actually met, but in Terre Haute, novelist and first-time playwright Edmund White “writes so persuasively about such an encounter that it might as well have taken place.” White’s thinly veiled protagonist, the famed contrarian writer James Brevoort, visits a convicted domestic terrorist named Harrison in prison. It’s four days before Harrison is scheduled to die by lethal injection. As the clock ticks, there’s little “time for dramatic setup and character building,” but White quickly establishes a riveting rapport between his characters. Terre Haute proves a “compelling drama that dares to speak about matters unspeakable.”
White’s “amusingly contrasted patrician novelist and plebeian terrorist” begin their interaction with some “weirdly flirtatious conversations,” said Charles Isherwood in The New York Times. Brevoort is beguiled and fascinated by the angry young man before him, wondering aloud if all “sociopaths” are as “charming” as Harrison. But their dialogue soon evolves “into something heated with the fire of real drama.” Peter Eyre portrays Brevoort as a “thwarted political orator” with a novelist’s sense of probing curiosity. Nick Westrate’s Harrison is pent up and frustrated, the perfect combination of “stolid fervor and sullen reserve.” Their interaction is “crisply enunciated and fundamentally persuasive,” though it occasionally seems static and forced.
That may be the fault of director George Perrin, said Dan Bacalzo in Theatermania.com. Perrin focuses too much on “the turning on and off” of Brevoort’s tape recorder, a device clearly meant to establish the importance of certain revelations. Besides interrupting the play’s dramatic flow, Perrin also “undercuts the effectiveness of the play’s major confrontation by positioning Eyre with his back to the audience.” Yet distractions notwithstanding,Westrate and Eyre have uncanny onstage chemistry, and the ideological back and forth between Brevoort and Harrison is “provocative and engaging.” White looks to have a bright future writing for the stage.
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