The Power of Duff Shows The Power of Storytelling

Helen Schultz ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff

The Huntington Theatre Company’s production of The Power of Duff begins with a simple question: what happens when the power of prayer finds its way to the mainstream? We find out when Charlie Duff, a local newscaster, begins to say a prayer at the end of his daily newscast. Unfortunately, this simple idea gets carried away in a flurry of subplots, superfluous conflicts, and loose ends. Much like Duff, this play finds out that sometimes the problems we get ourselves into can leave us with much more than we can handle. But a convoluted script can’t trump the fact that The Power of Duff may usher in a new era in the theatre: one in which video and live performance can work together seamlessly to tell one story.

Stephen Belber’s tale of belief in the modern age relies on two forms of storytelling: half onstage, half onscreen. Aaron Rhyme’s projection design weaves us through the world of Duff: a world populated by television screens careening in and out and blaring the latest news with deafening power. Rather than seeming forced or gimmicky, the small videos help to build more of the world that Duff inhabits. It makes for a different sort of play: one that not only portrays the world that appears immediately onstage, but the one that doesn’t.

Ben Cole, David Wilson Barnes, and Jennifer Westfeldt in the Huntington Theatre Company's production of Stephen Belber's The Power of Duff. Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson.
Ben Cole, David Wilson Barnes, and Jennifer Westfeldt in the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Stephen Belber’s The Power of Duff. Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson.

The Power of Duff boasts an all-star cast, including Tony-nominee Jennifer Westerfledt (Wonderful Town, Friends with Kids, Kissing Jessica Stein) and playwright-favorite David Wilson Barnes (The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Don’t Go Gentle, Becky Shaw). But its strongest players are the supporting characters. Brendan Griffin, know for his turn in Clybourne Park on Broadway, is heartbreaking and hilarious as John Ebbs, a manic-depressive sportscaster. Russell G. Jones plays a recipient of Duff’s prayers and manages to inject humor into a role that could otherwise turn dark. And Amy Pietz’s vulnerability as Charlie’s ex-wife makes her performance a standout.

The Power of Duff’s script is lacking – it introduces too many characters, takes too many dead ends, and leaves the audience feeling disappointed rather than uplifted. But while it’s story may not be the best, the way it tells it is something we haven’t seen before. The true triumph of The Power of Duff is not about story. It’s about storytelling.

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