by Andrew Turner
published January 23, 2009
now playing at The Clurman on Theatre Row
through February 7
Twenty-three knife wounds. Seven truths. And an eggplant.
In the Resonance Ensemble’s production of 23 Knives, now playing off-Broadway on Theatre Row, we are confronted with a good old-fashioned murder
mystery. Caesar has been murdered. We know those dastardly senators were involved, but which one struck the first blow? Marc Antony wants a
scapegoat, and he’s commissioned a Greek physician, Antistius, skilled in the exciting new art of “autopsy,” to investigate.
After experimenting with blades on an eggplant and matching it to a wound on
Caesar’s corpse, Antistius discovers that the killing blow came from a sword, not a knife. Since senators aren’t allowed to carry swords, this
means that none of them could have done it. A conundrum: tell the belligerent Antony what he wants to hear (and the belligerent Antony has
strongly hinted that he wants to hear the first strike came from Brutus) or keep digging for the truth… whatever that turns out to
The nature of truth is under heavy investigation in playwright Christopher Boal’s script. At the beginning of the play, Antistius
muses on several truths. Truth by agreement. Truth by conquest. Truth by writers.
Unfortunately, the truth of this particular piece of writing is that it’s heavy-handed. It seems like every few minutes a
character is stopping to muse on the nature of truth. It slows down the action, and is slightly insulting to the average theatergoer who is
well aware of the mutability of truth, and doesn’t need to be banged over the head with a thematic hammer.
It’s a shame, because it is an interesting premise and the acting is, for the most part, pretty solid. Todd Alan Crain delivers an
excellent performance as Janus, Antistius’ effeminate, wise-cracking slave. Even after Antistius frees him, Janus decides to stick with his
former master, forgoing the chance to escape what is certainly a no-win situation. There is obviously great love and loyalty between the
two characters; unfortunately, it is never suitably explored.
Boal hits us with a big twist at the end of the play which – given the multitudinous musings on the nature of truth – doesn’t come
across as particularly surprising. In 23 Knives, the existence of doubt itself is never in
doubt. What is in doubt is whether there was anything worth investigating in the first place.
andrewturner @ stageandcinema.com