Globe’s ‘Recommendation’ builds tension

by David Dixon

Courtesy of Henry Dirocco
Courtesy of Henry Dirocco

The theme of loyalty in question has been present in recent big screen films such as “The Ides of March” and “Tinker Tailor Solder Spy.” “The Recommendation,” a new play at the Old Globe Theatre, also deals with this message, as a strong friendship is suddenly tested.

Iskinder Iudoku (Brandon Gill) is a nerdy, but not completely antisocial, college student who quickly befriends his roommate, Aaron Feldman (Evan Todd). The wealthy Feldman is spoiled with a capital “S,” yet he is well meaning and helps Issy climb up the social and business ladders of success.

Years after meeting, Aaron tells Issy he is going to embark on a beer run. Moments later, Aaron is arrested for reasons even he does not completely understand. Revealing more about the plot would spoil too much, but what follows is a tense morality tale in which the relationship of the two buddies goes to some dark and ugly places.

While young playwright Jonathan Caren has written some shows in the past, “The Recommendation,” his first major production, affirms he is a strong new voice in theater. The dialogue is reminiscent of the great Aaron Sorkin: incredibly smart without losing sight of his characters.

Director Jonathan Munby is excellent in his pacing of “The Recommendation,” which at times feels similar to watching a modern big-screen drama. His storytelling is so engrossing; it is hard to believe he makes the intimate Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre at The Old Globe feel so grand.

The acting from the entire cast is spectacular. Gill plays the transformation from a somewhat naïve boy to an emotionally conflicted man wonderfully. Gill’s performance is natural and feels more like a real person than an actor giving a theatrical characterization.

While Todd could have made Aaron into a pompous pain in the butt, he instead makes him an empathetic, witty and likable individual. As funny as he is, the best scenes are the ones when he reveals his vulnerability in dire situations. These moments, which Todd handles with aplomb, reveal how pathetic Aaron has become.

The most complex role belongs to Jimonn Cole, who plays Aaron’s prison roommate, Dwight Barnes. Because the audience does not get to know him quite as well as Issy and Aaron, it becomes tough to figure out what his motivations are. Cole produces a sense of menace whenever he is on stage.

Betrayal is a reoccurring motif in “The Recommendation.” This is true with all three central characters. They break promises made to each other in order to satisfy their own personal interests. The backstabbing transmutes the funny drama into a chilling story full of disturbing dread.

“The Recommendation” is as tense as it is hilarious. Act I has plenty of laugh-out-loud scenes with some terrific allusions, including a priceless reference to the rap song, “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.” Even when things take a serious turn in Act II, there are still some hysterical jokes, credited in no short part to the three leads’ interactions with each other.

The target audience might be young adults, but “The Recommendation” is a creatively compelling drama that should appeal to all. In ways it is a hidden gem, a technically “small” show that surprises with originality and artistry.

Tickets and information about “The Recommendation” can be found at theoldglobe.org.

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