An intimate staging of a new play in the Hamptons winter season is a risk, but a tight script and strong performances make this thematically relevant play a compelling evening of theater.
In Guild Hall’s production of Falls for Jodie by Eric Micha Holmes, a young and hopeful John Hinckley checks into a hotel in New Haven, Connecticut as part of a plan to meet, and profess his love to, Jodie Foster, then a student at Yale Drama School. He immediately meets an opportunistic and charismatic (read: manipulative) concierge, Eddie, who sees an easy mark in the wealthy, impressionable Hinckley. Over the course of several weeks, Eddie and John strike up an odd friendship that begins with Eddie attempting to score some easy cash from John in exchange for help getting Jodie Foster’s attention. But as their friendship intensifies, John reveals himself to be dangerously obsessed and Eddie realizes he may have gotten himself into a situation that he can’t undo.
Although Falls for Jodie is inspired by true events—Hinckley unsuccessfully tried to assassinate then-President Ronald Reagan in a deranged attempt at getting Foster’s admiration—the character of Eddie is fictional. Perhaps by design, Eddie is the more compelling and mysterious of the two characters—he first comes across as a smarmy door-to-door salesman type, then appears more sympathetic as he becomes concerned with Hinckley’s increasing paranoia and delusions regarding Foster. The play is at its strongest when exploring Eddie’s reactions to Hinckley’s disturbing behavior; he clearly knows something’s very wrong with Hinckley, but is powerless to do anything about it, and either doesn’t think or doesn’t want to think that Hinckley’s actually a danger to anyone.
As Eddie, Trevor Vaughn manages to be both slimy and charming. Vaughn has created in Eddie an optimistic hustler who has big ideas and has convinced himself that he’s bound for success, despite not having the resources or, perhaps, even the smarts to accomplish his goals. Michael Paul is sad and chilling as John Hinckley, conveying an innocent naiveté that slowly darkens. By the time the play ends, Hinckley has gone from attempting to serenade Foster over the phone to contemplating murder, and Paul sells the transformation beautifully. The final moment of the piece, which portends the decision that will solidify Hinckley’s infamous place in history, is striking.
Director Bill Burford’s staging—the action of the play takes place in the round, with the audience sitting onstage in close proximity to the actors—is highly effective. At times, the two characters circle the small hotel room set like they’re two cowboys about to draw guns in a shootout. There are a few times where it’s unclear how much time has passed between scenes, but this doesn’t really hinder the effectiveness of the story.
The questions Falls for Jodie asks are many. For example, what drives a man to murder? Were warning signs about Hinckley ignored? Are we culpable when we know someone is perhaps capable of doing something dangerous but are unsure and don’t come forward?
Like the countless, senseless tragedies we hear about all too often in today’s world, there are no easy answers.
See Falls for Jodie at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street, East Hampton, through March 17. For tickets and more information, call 631-324-0806 and visit guildhall.org.