KYLE is a dark comedy directed by Emily Owens and inspired by both playwright and actor Hollis James’s own battle with drug addiction. Occurring almost entirely in the messy living room of Jack (Nat Cassidy), the play chronicles his foray into cocaine use as the hold of addiction consumes his life.
The play opens when Jack, a freelance writer, is introduced to cocaine for the first time from a friendly neighborhood drug dealer, whom he encounters during a home delivery to his girlfriend Crystal (Tricia Alexandro). Jack is looking for a break from himself. But from the play, it’s not entirely clear why. He’s likeable, although somewhat neurotic. He also has a relatively steady job and his girlfriend is immensely confident, nurturing, and witty. But from Jack’s first snort, out pops Kyle (Hollis James). Kyle is the living embodiment of Jack’s relationship with cocaine.
The first thing you realize about Kyle is that he is “a cool guy.” Sporting a t-shirt for the band New York Doll’s, he’s bursting with exuberant energy, ready to party, funny, and knowledgeable about all things classic rock. From the get-go, it is clear that Kyle has materialized for a reason. The relationship is light and fun, and provides Jack an escape from his reality as the duo stays up all night chatting about music or random trivia and minutia. Kyle is a reflection of Jack, the id to Jack’s superego. Jack is naturally drawn to him as he offers a reprieve from his monotonous anxiety-filled inner monologue. Jack’s evenings become worry-free and self-indulgent exchanges with his alter ego.
The play focuses primarily on the banter and eventual clashes between Jack and Kyle. As Jack’s life starts to crumble, Crystal walks out on him, he loses his job as a writer, and finally, his health begins to suffer, Kyle remains and continues to offer solace from this inevitable and continuing downward spiral. Kyle is, of course, always just one snort away.
The play is authentic. Kyle is a strong seductive character whom the audience wants to like, making his hold on Jack extremely plausible. Jack’s neuroses are also entirely relatable and his procrastination is uncomfortably familiar. The humor, sprinkled with sarcasm, slapstick and quick-witted banter, is surprisingly upbeat for a play about cocaine addiction.
But the authenticity of the play also comes with certain drawbacks. In keeping with what is presumably the playwright’s personal story, the play at times becomes mundane, as Jack rarely leaves his house and the dialogue becomes repetitive.
The play also missed an opportunity to explore Jack’s relationships with the other two leads—two endlessly supportive and forgiving females in Jack’s life. Jack’s girlfriend Crystal and his boss Reggie (Christine Renee Miller) are endlessly patient with Jack and the safety net of their friendship remains when Jack is at his worst. Even with his job, health and relationships in danger, such harm doesn’t reverberate beyond the confines of his living room. It would have been interesting to explore whether Kyle’s hold was as persuasive if Jack was forced to make choices that placed his friends and loved ones in direct peril.
Despite these minor flaws, the play works in large part due to the all-around excellent acting and fun dialogue. Tricia Alexandro is effortlessly likeable and she matches Jack at every step (when Jack is impressed by the fact Crystal has a drug dealer’s phone number, she reminds him that he should probably be more impressed by her Master’s degree). And Hollis James and Nat Cassidy’s chemistry necessarily drives the play forward. It’s a lighthearted dive into a difficult subject and a notable first play by playwright Hollis James.
Kyle is presented by FRIGID New York @ Horse Trade in association with Hot Tramp Productions.