In Indivisible, Steven J. Scally, the Valley's Most Underrated Actor, Shines

It's a pity there aren't more play scripts like Taylor Doherty's Indivisible. If there were, one might have the opportunity to watch Steven J. Scally perform in a fine drama more often.

Scally, perhaps the single most underrated actor in town, is captivating in Doherty's excellent and vaguely futuristic commentary on American mores, now playing at iTheatre Collaborative. The actor literally bursts onto the stage, biting off Doherty's brisk, brittle dialogue in a jangly Jersey accent. We meet him first as a benign and oafish clown, an extreme example of an archetypal working-class American male, lusting after babes and beer and braying invective at everything he doesn't love. By the end of Act One, Scally's Dominick has morphed into a genuinely terrifying monster — a tough transition to make in little more than an hour, but one that Scally handles expertly.

On paper, Indivisible sounds familiar, like a half-dozen other plays (and maybe one or two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents) you've seen before: A group of strangers are held captive in a largely empty room; none of them remembers how or why they're there. There's Adam (Rolando Zee), a pacifist who's given up on life; Gwen (Kristina Rogers), an archetypically angry activist who appears to hate men; and Dominick, who quickly becomes the group's oppressive master. The prisoners learn that they're subjects in a test program designed to rehabilitate people who've made "poor choices" in their lives, and quickly become a microcosm of society, squabbling over food and possessions and behaving badly. But Doherty avoids the typical high phoniness of this dated construct, replacing Cold War commentaries with observations on life in this country and more than a little high comedy.

The laughs come mostly from the series of absurdist video "lessons" hosted by George and Martha, a white-lab-coated pair who instruct the captives on the proper use of capitalism and faith and other tenets of what they call "the American way." But this comedy is as dark as dried blood, rather a lot of which is shed in realistically gory sequences that literally splattered Christopher Haines' sterile and beautifully lit set.

All this brutal to-ing and fro-ing is held tightly together by director Charles St. Clair, who finesses Doherty's manic shifts between comedy and brutality into a gracefully lurid drama. That his cast manages to be seen at all alongside Scally's dazzling performance is testimony to both their actorly skills and St. Clair's stunning juxtaposition of fear, drama, and humor.

There are flaws. We never hear several of the characters' stories, and are left to wonder why they're trapped in the first place. The play is overlong and would benefit from some trimming, particularly to the video components, which are charmingly performed by Michael Traylor and Shannon Whirry. But Indivisible is still a more-than-worthy play, neatly written, tidily directed, and propelled by a spectacular performance by perhaps our most talented local actor.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela