What are the conditions under which people who consider themselves moral and right-thinking will act against their consciences. Who will they choose to be, faced with a a crossroads where one fork leads to behaving responsibly and very likely alone, risking disenfranchisement or worse, intervening between injustice and the pack; and the other fork leads to bending under pressure from the group or the leader, toward the infliction of deliberate harm?
The question is posed by Frank Basloe's play Please Continue at Ensemble Studio Theatre. It alternates between two parallel but disconnected stories. Both occurring at Yale University in 1960. Both true.
The first one about a grad student (David Edward Jackson) who agrees, for his thesis project, to conduct an experiment on behalf of his supervising professor (Haskell King), on the nature of obedience, in which test subjects, believing they're part of an entirely other experiment about the effectiveness of pain on learning, are fooled into believing they're administering ever higher shock voltages on another volunteer, whose increasing (albeit feigned) dismay belies what they're being told about the shocks being "painful at first" but causing no actual harm.
The second story is about a young man (Jared Maguire) who got away with participating in the group sexual abuse of a 14 year old girl, whose guilt has driven him to seek guidance from his local pastor (Tommy Schrider).
For the most part, the direction by William Carden is cleanly efficient, almost like an old Dragnet episode (without the elements rife for self parody), but that seemingly objective briskness is precisely right for the nature of the text, which often has about it the feel of a transcript from candid recordings.
not entirely sure what I feel about the play (which has been deservedly
extended at EST), in part because I’m not entirely sure the play knows what to
feel about itself; in the end, it seems
content to ask us to confront ourselves without drawing a moralistic
conclusion, despite the obvious issues of morality involved. But there’s no
denying its intelligence nor its ability to fascinate. Given the context, that
makes how I feel almost irrelevant. It may be how it makes you feel that’s more important.
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