Role Call, written by Christopher Evans and directed by Madeleine Perham, comes from the team that worked on the phenomenal Blue Stockings. It tells the story of a teacher, Mr. Kendall, who sleeps with his student, Hazel, and is consumed with guilt about crossing the line and failing to be the inspirational mentor that he sought out to be. It also tells the story of a troubled mother-daughter relationship that seeks redemption before it is too late. Despite being potentially charged with drama, Role Call, unfortunately, falls flat.
The play attempts to work through too many themes in such a short span. This leaves all the relationships half-baked. The interactions between characters have little movement and the audience finds themselves listening to talking heads mundanely chat away, mostly sitting at a desk that’s on one corner of the stage. Dramatic moments lose their steam as the characters resolve their conflicts almost immediately, erupting into drama at one moment and irrationally calming down at the next moment. They seem to accept the harshness of their situations a bit too easily, giving the audience little to cling on to.
The dynamic developed between Mr. Kendall and Hazel is perfectly done, with the right balance of awkwardness and flirtation. But this dies out too soon and the play is transformed into a series of meetings with the eternally ‘nice’ Mr. Thomas, the head of the department, who is idealized by Kendall and fantasized by Hazel’s mother. The relationship between Mr. Thomas and Mr. Kendall is a major part of the story, but since their interactions are subdued the importance of their relationship seems far fetched. Even Hazel and her mother seem to be cardboard cut-outs with no real motivation behind what they do.
However, the acting is a sincere effort. Though the script limits them, the actors do their best to wade through. Sanjay Mewada manages to make the quiet, compassionate Mr. Thomas likeable so we sympathize with the discomforting situations he has to go through. Kate Tuohy infuses a hint of humour in Susan, Hazel’s nymphomaniac mother. Thomas Lodge pulls off the character of the simultaneously charming and bashful Mr. Kendall – it is a pity we see little of him. Madeleine Saidenberg as Hazel shines in the scenes she has with Mr. Kendall though her character loses aim. If you go for Role Call, watch it for the chemistry between Hazel and Kendall, because the rest of the play is rather underdone.