The Winners (HotCity Theatre - September 2011)

Like a Pinter play with a dirty mind, "The Winners" invades the most intimate territory, the relationship between married people. There — again echoing Pinter — playwright David L. Williams demonstrates the power of things left unsaid, even between people who presumably could say anything to one another.

But they don't always do that, do they? And when they do, even a loving husband and wife may discover the power to horrify each other.

Last year, "The Winners" won HotCity's GreenHouse competition for new plays; now the troupe is presenting its world première, under the direction of Marty Stanberry. It's an apt choice. HotCity's cool aesthetic finds a good match in Williams' sharp, edgy story. Just remember, sharp edges can make deep cuts.

"The Winners" are Kurt (Shaun Sheley) and Cassie (Shanara Gabrielle), a couple catapulted out of middle-class struggle by a lottery ticket. Now worth untold millions, they embark on their first splurge, a night of sexual fantasy for them both. To make their dreams come true, they've hired a beautiful Asian-American prostitute (who would rather be called an escort, or perhaps dental hygienist), Tiffany (Sasha Diamond).

In her short, one-shouldered black dress, Tiffany is plainly the outsider in this tasteful house, impeccably designed by James Holborow. It's an unlikely scene for the encounter, from crystal knickknacks on the built-in shelves to the baby monitor on the pale sofa. ... Sheley, in full-on debonair-dad mode, makes the financial arrangements as suavely as he can, considering that until recently he probably had to figure out tips in his head. Cassie seems a little bit tense, though. Is that because she never did anything like this before? Or because she's so eager to change that?

In the meantime, Diamond changes personalities on a dime, an endless calibration of what's expected against what she's willing to do. Are any of them really who she is? What would it take to get her to tell them? If that is, indeed, all they want — and no, it is not.

The most intense sexual behavior takes place offstage, but the most intense fantasies take place before our eyes and, especially, our ears. In the second act, when the play takes an unexpected emotional turn, the mood changes along with the subject matter. By then, it's not Harold Pinter that Williams echoes, but Scott Fitzgerald. Maybe the rich really are different from the rest of us. And none the better for it.

- Judith Newmark of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch


The Bully (Vital Theatre Company - Touring since 2005)

You might expect a children's theatrical production called ''The Bully'' to be a little, well, bullying: a heavy moral lesson that hits its young audiences over the head.

Refreshingly, that description does not apply to Vital Children's Theater's new hourlong musical. With a peppy score and lyrics by John Gregor and an insightful book by David L. Williams, ''The Bully'' recognizes that bullies and bullying take many forms. With a sense of humor as well as a sense of mission, it explores its highly topical subject through sixth-grade characters who are human beings rather than black-and-white symbols.

The plot centers on Lenny (Brian Charles Rooney), smart and small, and his hulking nemesis, Steve (Miron Gusso), who delights in pushing Lenny around. But things change when the two accidentally get on the wrong bus and are sent to a school where they are mistaken for new students and told to watch out for Mega, the local big cheese. Imagine their astonishment when Mega turns out to be Megan (Laura Binstock), who clearly takes her cues from repeated viewings of ''Mean Girls.'' Sly, smiling and utterly vicious, she takes bullying to a level where even Steve can't compete.

The presence of a common enemy alters the dynamic between Steve, who has vulnerabilities of his own, and Lenny, who is revealed to have been a tattletale and a know-it-all. I won't give away more, except to say that the conclusion is hilarious, witty and even moving. ''The Bully,'' like the best kind of teacher, nudges children toward the truth and then lets them discover it on their own.

- Laurel Graeber of The New York Times


The Censor (Throughline Theatre Company: Pittsburgh, 2016)

Every year, in cities and towns around the world, vast numbers of new plays are given “world premieres” by small theater companies. You never know what you’ll get with these plays, but a lot of them are pretty good. Sometimes you even hit the jackpot.

A friend and I attended the opening night of David L. Williams’ The Censor at Throughline Theatre. When the lights went up for intermission, my friend turned to me with a grin and said, “We’re going to be able to say we saw it first.”

Yes, The Censor is that good. Theater fans who are quick deciders will be the lucky ones, because the run is short (finishing this Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 22-24). And though the world-premiere version of the script has some flaws, they are outweighed by virtues that make the play an entertaining and thought-provoking gripper. Not to mention a play with so many memorable one-liners that you might suspect the playwright is channeling Oscar Wilde.

... This play is subtle even when it shouts, twisting back and forth on multiple levels. The cat-and-mouse intrigue is interwoven with some serious (and seriously funny) exploration of the worlds of art and bureaucracy.

Better yet, amid the clashing of issues, personal stories emerge—to the point that the play also becomes a character study, with characters who aren’t simple.

... We don’t know if our country will ever be the kind that bans such plays as The Censor. It seems unlikely. But very good plays can vanish from the scene just through the fickleness of fate, and neither do we know if The Censor will catch on to the extent where it is still being performed a century, or ten years, from today. I recommend seeing it now.

- Mike Vargo of Entertainment Central Pittsburgh

David L. Williams’ The Censor stiflingly and inventively captures the anxieties of living in a world in which the titular cultural overseer is omnipresent, feared and (seemingly) ruthless.  The play, staged by the Throughline Theatre company in Lawrenceville’s intimate Greybox Theatre, is a disquieting but never off-putting telling of The Censor, Charlotte, as she visits an art gallery and takes a keen interest in the work of a radical visual artist, Nellis.  Problematizing Nellis’ already perceivably incendiary art is the fact that Nellis is a transgendered man, which relegates him to a life of secrecy, castigation and intense discretion.  Charlotte, however, is not all that her ostensible persona would seem—she expresses that she is willing to allow certain themes or artists deemed insidious by the Commonwealth—the loosely defined, but clearly strictly regimented government super-structure that dictates which art is permissible and what is passable as quality—slide and allow standards to be more flexible.  Charlotte’s involvement with Nellis’ artistic world becomes more fascinatingly complicated as he agrees to commission a portrait of Charlotte to assuage her feelings of being disregarded by the patriarchal figures in the Commonwealth.

It is from this point that the evolution of Charlotte’s fierce humanity, especially in relation to the art and the dire need for personal expression that Nellis depends upon, that drive the rest of the dramaturgical action.  The at first obfuscated but gradually revealed poignant sensitivity that permeates Charlotte’s spirit is what is truly evocative, as the play’s plot unfurls into one of artistic liberation at the hand of Charlotte’s machinations for the sake of undermining the Commonwealth’s regime.  Maura Underwood is striking as the titular censor, establishing the appropriate amount of austerity and snarling authority in her first few scenes that makes her eventual vulnerability and conviction in later scene all the more heartfelt.  A show filled with truly robust performances, the interactions between Nellis—a soft-spoken, delicately powerful Liam Ezra Dickinson—and Charlotte convey a certain viscera, a certain understanding of nuanced human relationships that they are remarkably worth remaking upon, as they carry the tension and suspense of the play.

The Censor is a play whose importance is obvious but never redundant or pedantic—the beautifully articulated trans narrative; the imperative role of art in society and the ramifications of the limitations on art; the wariness of overpowering government.  Much of the power of the play and immense feeling of masterfully crafted anxiety comes in the casts subtle performances and the intimate setting of the theatre."

- Eva Phillips of PGH in the Round

Ingulf & The Saving (Mill 6 Collaborative: Boston, 2004)

The two plays by David L. Williams that Mill 6 Collaborative will do for one more weekend are so full of delicious surprises and carefully kept secrets that anything I say will spoil everything. I will say that THE SAVING is a beautifully constructed monologue full of pauses and unfinished sentences, swallowed phrases and asides --- and Adam Soule plays them like a virtuoso. And INGULF is an absurdist play with outlandishly unbelievable things forced on a "typical" modern American family. It's funnier than the first play, and bigger. I recommend them to any adventurous theatre-goer.

- Larry Stark of

Tess' Last Night (W&W Productions: New York City, 2003)

With cheeky aplomb, Tess' Last Night skewers the time-honored conventions of the backstage musical. Set in the insular world of children's theatre, Tess' Last Night may be laced with too many in-jokes to make it as commercially viable as another recent Off-Off-Broadway musical that went on to fame, Tonys, and a long run on Broadway, but it nevertheless has more pointed satire and genuine belly laughs than most shows of this genre. David L. Williams's book is the strongest asset here: delightfully crude, self-deprecatingly hilarious, and always on-target as it lampoons classic backstage clichés with racy, adult humor.

- Doug DeVita of

The Armageddon Dance Party (W&W Productions: New York City, 2006)

Among the many great things about the Fringe Festival is that it makes theatre available on Mondays, when almost all venues are usually blacked out. 34 different shows are on today, to be exact, including Armageddon Dance Party, David L. Williams' inspired, hilarious take on our precarious times, in which a couple does what comes naturally when they hear the end of times is nigh: invite people over and crank up the music to drown out the horror and sadness welling up from within. Smart writing and great acting got it a gold star in yesterday's reviews and is the sort of Fringe show that should get an extension, but in case it doesn't be sure to go now.

- Mallory Jensen of

David L. Williams’ delightfully absurd new play brings in some politics and serious thought under the guise of fast-paced comedy and sheer silliness, and the youthful cast pulls it off with high energy and panache. As the show begins, John and Michelle (Tommy Day and Lordan Napoli) are trying to figure out whether Armageddon is here, as they believe they just heard on the news. They’re pretty sure it is but it’s a hard thing to wrap their heads around, so they invite their friends, and their friends’ friends, over for a dance party. As the night wears on and the idea of the end of the world sinks in, everyone’s spirits sink, though they improve them by talking about what they won’t miss in the world, and jamming to good music, and having sex in the stairwell, and doing things they’ve always wanted to do like kill someone. The writing is quite intelligent and often witty, and any snarkiness smoothed over by the likeability of the characters ... one leaves the theater both grinning and a little pensive and troubled. <Armageddon Dance Party is fun to watch and fully engaging in the best sense; it doesn’t try to convey a precise message, but it invites real reflection amidst the laughter, a winning combination solidified by the talented cast and nearly seamless production.