Lots of verbal sparring in tense ‘RIFT, or white lies,’ at Luna Stage

rift review


Matt Monaco, left, and Blake Stadnik co-star in “RIFT, or white lies,” which will be at Luna Stage in West Orange through March 10.

In an era when American families are being torn apart by political polarization, it seems inevitable that a brother-vs.-brother play such as “RIFT, or white lies” would come along. But the difference between the siblings here is not as simple as Democrat vs. Republican, or woke vs. MAGA. One brother works as a college English professor and is an acclaimed progressive novelist. The other is a convicted criminal and a Nazi.

The question, “Is it possible to love someone … whose beliefs you hate?”, is posed on the cover of the program for Gabriel Jason Dean’s tense, powerful drama, which is currently being presented at Luna Stage in West Orange. (Luna Stage, which presented Dean’s similarly timely “Heartland” in 2019, commissioned him to write it; Ari Laura Kreith, Luna Stage’s artistic director, directs.)


Matt Monaco plays Inside Brother in “RIFT, or white lies.”

The play’s two characters are identified in the program only as Inside Brother (Matt Monaco) and Outside Brother (Blake Stadnik). Inside Brother is serving a life sentence for a crime he swears he didn’t commit. Outside Brother wants to help, but is wary of being manipulated and, once Inside Brother’s Nazi affiliation is revealed, remains out of touch for an extended period of time.

The play is made up entirely of interactions between the two brothers (half-brothers, to be more precise) over the course of many years. Outside Brother goes from being a callow, casually dressed college kid with a drinking problem to a worldly, conservatively dressed, middle-aged adult in the course of the play. Inside Brother’s beard turns partially gray.

Mostly, these meetings are in inhospitable prison-visitation rooms (scenic designer You-Shin Chen gives them fluorescent lighting, linoleum floors and flimsy folding chairs). There is also an online meeting, plus a scene at a church — at their father’s funeral, which the imprisoned brother is allowed to attend.

Monaco is terrific as Inside Brother: He is physically imposing, even when confined to a wheelchair, and speaks in a hypnotic drawl. He is covered in tattoos and has a crazed glint in his eyes, at times, but is very charismatic and persuasive. Though he has done many foolish things in his life, he is quite smart.

In one of Dean’s cleverest touches, he has Inside Brother offer some insightful criticism of Outside Brother’s writing.

Stadnik is quite good, as well, though Outside Brother is a more straightforward, mild-mannered role: A guy who just wants to have a nice, normal life, and do the right thing, and not have to deal with the monumental problem that his brother has become.


Blake Stadnik plays Outside Brother in “RIFT, or white lies.”

Occasionally, there is some friendly bonding or nostalgic reminiscing between the brothers. But these moments are rare. For the most part, the strain in their relationship is obvious. And straining it further, at times, is their shared knowledge of some dark family history that eventually comes to the surface.

In many ways, this play represents a kind of verbal dance, or power struggle. Whether the brothers are casually chatting or having weighty discussions, they are also, always, trying to figure each other out. Which is often easier said than done. Inside Brother has a well-documented history of lying. And Outside Brother isn’t necessarily totally honest all of the time, either.

Inside Brother is older, and a natural-born leader. Will circumstances ultimately break him? And will Outside Brother ever get out from under his dark clouds?

In regard to the play’s most seemingly unresolvable conflict … Inside Brother insists he became a Nazi in order to survive in the gang-warfare culture of prison, and not because of any racist tendencies. “Man’s gotta get brotherhood where he can,” he tells his brother. “I didn’t see your ass in here, offering me safety.”

Outside Brother wants to believe him. But is Inside Brother just twisting the truth, one more time, to get what he wants?

Luna Stage in West Orange will present “RIFT, or white lies,” through March 10. Visit lunastage.org.

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