Arts theater review

The Power of Duff

The repercussions of one man’s attempt to save the world

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David Wilson Barnes in the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Stephen Belber’s The Power of Duff.
T. Charles Erickson


The Power of Duff

Written by Stephen Belber

Calderwood Pavilion, Boston

8.00 p.m., Oct. 25, 2013

An ordinary anchorman leads a relatively ordinary life until one day when his father suddenly dies. Instead of closing one of his broadcast reports by traditionally thanking the audience for watching the news, he decides to break the norms and pray. The erratic decision receives glowing praise from the local community, and the story gets a special twist when the anchorman’s subsequent broadcast prayers come to life. With these new acquired powers, he decides that it is his duty to pray for other people’s sufferings and save the world.

This is the baseline story of The Power of Duff. Of course, there are minor details to the story that turn the seemingly idealistic plot into a dramatic satire. The anchorman, Charles Duff (portrayed by David Wilson Barnes), cheated on his wife and now has no connection with his son. His co-workers are all struggling with their personal problems and add an extra burden to his messiah duty. On top of that, he has to deal with his supervisor, who only cares about how to make profit from his godly experiences.

It’s a fun and thought-provoking story that will surely incite your mind. Despite the over-the-top vulgar dialogues and at times overly mundane conversations, the play asks all the right questions — how powerful is faith? Where is the fine line between spiritual hypocrisy and true dedication? When do you help others and when do you help yourself? How do you know when certain situations are out of your control?

Some of these questions get answered, some are left to be solved by your imagination, and some just turn out to be a big bite for the playwright. For a story of such in-depth questions of non-trivial importance, the play never manages to clearly explain the relationship between Charles’ decisions and the consequences in the lives of the people that he loves. Even though the beginning of the plot shows signs of a promising and unconventionally humorous revelation of the divine mystery, the end gets lost in all the attempts to resolve the side plots and bring the story to a concluding point.

However, when the story manages to bring about good moments, these moments turn out to be exceptionally successful and witty. John Ebbs, portrayed by Brendan Griffin, adds the winning combination of rudimentary and sentimental humor to the story, with his brilliant depiction of a must-love supporting character, and Ron Kirkpatrick, played by Joe Paulik, brings in the satirical element of the play by portraying the overly dramatic news reporter. The mobile on-stage rooms, visually compelling TV screens, and newsroom desks make up the excellent stage setup, which brings the hectic and slightly fake atmosphere of the newsroom to life. And overall, the exaggerated representations of the mundane conversations, and characters’ gesticulations and emotional responses compensate for the play’s lackluster outcome by making the plot more amusing than it ever would be in a real-life setting.

The play most likely will not leave you with the feeling of a cathartic epiphany, but don’t be fooled — under the satire and exaggerated humor, there are a lot of questions to be pondered and answered. You might not find the answers within the scope of the play’s plot, but that doesn’t mean it will leave you without food for thought.