Presented by Merrimack Repertory Theatre
Written by Sean Daniels
Directed by Sheryl Kaller
Review by Craig Idlebrook
(Lowell, MA) Earnestness may be the most difficult emotion to pull off in theater well. Attempts generally fall short and become bludgeoning lectures, wooden morality plays, or both. That’s what makes The White Chip, playing at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, such a theatrical revelation. Not only does it deliver a powerful, needed message on why so many fail at addiction recovery, but it is a riveting play that is a joy to watch, as playwright Sean Daniels manages to add just the right amount of humor and perspective to keep the audience hooked.
The play centers on the downward alcoholic spiral of Sean (Jeffrey Binder), and his (spoiler – not a spoiler) ultimate 11th hour redemption. We follow him from his first drink to his last, and the journey is filled with with and deep exploration into self-deception.
Playwright Daniels wisely makes Sean the only full-time character on stage, with two other actors (Benjamin Evett and Isabel Keating) standing in as all the other revolving people in Sean’s life. This effect does a good job keeping the focus on Sean and underlining the narcissistic and isolating effects of addiction – the world shrinks to the individual and the substance (or action) which spurs the addiction. The rest, as they say, is silence.
Binder expertly underplays everything, from the humor to the horror, to let the situations onstage speak for themselves; this helps the production avoid a Lifetime movie feel for addiction. Binder, Evett, and Keating work extremely well together, as director Sheryl Kaller clearly succeeds in getting the actors to pull together for the greater cause of the script.
If you think you know everything there is to know about addiction, prepare to be surprised by the play’s ending. The truth revealed before the final curtain is both simple and profound, and the earnest lesson the play delivers could very well save lives. Entertaining and important at the same time, this production of The White Chip is a play everyone should see.