Actor Mitchell Ryan must be relieved--the audience certainly is--when the third act of "This Story of Yours" arrives, and his character finally gets to face an adversary in his own weight class.
Ryan plays a detective sergeant sickened by the disgusting things that he has seen in his 20 years on the force. Even worse, he is beginning to feel (but not acknowledge) a dreadful kinship with the rapists and murderers he investigates. One night, grilling a suspected child molester (Philip Baker Hall), the denied wish becomes the deed.
There is a play in this, and it could even be a three-act play. There's nothing wrong with playwright John Hopkins' idea of showing us the aftershock of the detective's crime first--how it signals the end of his gone-sour marriage (Act I) and how the police department's instinct will be to stonewall it, unless it's absolutely beyond the pale (Act II).
But at the Victory Theatre those first two acts just sit there. Hopkins draws the detective's wife as a total mouse, virtually begging for a clip to the chin--which she gets (in slow motion, one of director Dana Elcar's less fortunate touches). Actress Kiva Lawrence does what she can with the part, but there's nothing there but an old bathrobe.
Act II goes a little better, with Ramon Bieri as a senior police investigator increasingly appalled by the stuff this so-called "professional" detective is coming out with. Again, though, all that happens is that Ryan gets to vent his pain all over the place, with diminishing returns.
(One reason is that, Hopkins being a British playwright, some of the scene's tension relates to differences in social class between the senior investigator and the detective. These don't play at all when the play is Americanized, as here.)
Act III--the fatal confrontation itself--has real traction. Ryan starts out as the traditional "nice cop," softening up suspect Hall with a cup of coffee and a chance to shoot the breeze. Hall does his own stonewalling, but little by little is drawn into communication.
And we see that he's formidable: a man strengthened by the knowledge of something that Ryan won't admit: that all men are evil. As Ryan tries to smoke Hall out, Hall is simultaneously smoking Ryan out--forcing him to face that fact that, in desire, he's as warped as anybody. There's a big difference between desire and deed, of course. But in the end Hall makes his case there, too--unfortunately for him.
If the writing here is a little hysterical, and more than a little patronizing to the rigid detective, it has a conviction missing in the first two acts. And the actors--with something real to play off--generate real heat.
Hall is furtive and dodgy, a sneak puncher. Ryan is straight-ahead and go-ahead, yet surprisingly subtle at times, no longer merely the wounded bull. We sense complexities not even hinted at in the first two acts--for all their shouting. Theater at last! But it's a long time coming. D. Martyn Bookwalter's set presents three interesting faces. "This Story of Yours" unfortunately presents only one.
'THIS STORY OF YOURS'
John Hopkins' play, at the Victory Theatre. Presented by Patrick Hogan and Bruce Lazarus. Director Dana Elcar. Scenic and lighting design D. Martyn Bookwalter. Costume design Virginia Land. Stage manager Susan Bougetz. With Mitchell Ryan, Kiva Lawrence, Joe Nesnow, Raymond Bieri, John Kermit Anderson and Philip Baker Hall. Plays Thurs.-Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 7. Tickets $10-$12. 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank. 654-4137.