BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Have you caught any of the fresh works premiered by Lincoln Center Theater's LCT3 series? It's a swell deal: For just $20 you can watch a new play staged with top-notch actors and design values.
Whoever selects the plays generally has been doing a nifty job of it. Only in its third season, LCT3 already has presented notable pieces such as Nick Jones' giddy Regency-era romp "The Coward" and Ann Marie Healy's disturbing "What Once We Felt" look at a dystopian new world.
LCT3's latest production is "When I Come to Die," which opened Thursday at The Duke. Nathan Louis Jackson's grimly-titled drama studies a Death Row inmate who somehow has survived his execution by lethal injection.Neither a debate on capital punishment nor a tale of the supernatural, the story skirts the miraculous nature of the prisoner's inexplicable delivery to observe his subsequent times.
While prison officials figure out their next move, Damon (Chris Chalk), already ten years in prison, deals with his unexpected lease on life. The first thing he does is incite a near-riot in his cellblock.
Roach (David Patrick Kelly), a neighboring inmate next in line to die, yearns to learn Damon's secret for survival. A kindly priest (Neal Huff) reaches out to Damon's estranged family, who has sent back all of his letters unread.
A disappointing visit from Damon's sister (Amanda Mason Warren), a compassionate interchange with Roach and a resolution involving shoeboxes of unopened mail are among the elements that Jackson assembles for his 90-minute drama.
Despite the play's bitter circumstances, lean structure and unvarnished talk, the story turns surprisingly sentimental. Damon never reveals as much about himself as you might expect. Nor does the play deal with any higher questions of life and death it initially raises.
Thanks in part to the capable acting and smart all-around design of director Thomas Kail's expertly low-keyed production, the play probably will hold your interest but is likely to leave you wanting more. I, for one, would like to see the playwright furnish the character of Damon's lawyer who could argue whether the same man can be executed twice. You might wish to see Jackson depict the spoken-about figure of Damon's unforgiving father.
Certainly there is an incomplete quality to "When I Come to Die" that will give you something to discuss after the show. No question that Jackson is a talented writer — his plainspoken language sounds very natural — but his new play does not sufficiently develop its intriguing premise.
"When I Come to Die" continues through Feb.26 at The Duke, 229 W. 42nd St., New York. Call (646) 223-3010 or visit www.lct3.org.