“RIFT, or white lies” explores the bond between brothers

Blake Stadnik is sitting at a table and Matt Monaco is standing at the same table.
"RIFT, or white lies" Blake Stadnik and Matt Monaco (Photo Credit Valerie Terrnova)

West Orange’s tiny Luna Stage presents a world premiere, RIFT, or white lies, a searing drama by Gabriel Jason Dean. In it, Dean explores the forging — and breaking — of family bonds between two half-brothers with differing world views.

The action mostly takes place in three prison visitation centers over a number of years, with a final scene set in a church. The elder brother, referred to as Inside Brother (Matt Monaco), has been badly injured in a prison fight; his estranged younger brother, Outside Brother (Blake Stadnik), comes to check up on his condition.

Outside Brother has no understanding of the route that brought Inside Brother to this point, while Inside Brother feels condescended to by his sibling. The two bicker over past grievances about love and belonging, privilege and neglect and abuse, yet through it they start to reform what was broken between them — until an act of betrayal threatens their newly-reforged bonds.

The two brothers are brought to life by Stadnik and Monaco under the firm yet sensitive direction of Luna’s Artistic Director, Ari Laura Kreith. Stadnik, best known as the vision-impaired musician Jack Damon on TV’s This Is Us, is smart and sensitive as Outside Brother, learning from his sibling to see through himself and his own self-deceptions and excuses. Matt Monaco’s Inside Brother is smart enough to play dumb when he needs to but also shows a raw intellect starting to emerge, as portrayed in a scene where the brothers discuss the works of Black writers James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Stadnik and Monaco together manage to form a palpable, believable set of brothers. You find your sympathies moving from one brother to another and back again while coming to grips with your own stereotypes about the brothers.

Matt Monaco is standing in the background and Blake Stadnik is holding a cell phone.
Matt Monaco and Blake Stadnik (Photo Credit Valerie Terrnova)

The set, mostly a sparsely-furnished series of prison visitation rooms, is the minimalist creation of scenic designer You-Shin Chen and her assistant, Ellie Carhart. It is further brought to life through the lighting design of Cameron Filepas and the sound design of Joseph Murgolo. Costume designer Deborah Caney depicts the career rise of Outside Brother through increasingly well-to-do outfits while emphasizing the static limbo of Inside Brother in an unchanging orange jumpsuit with matching orange sneakers. 

RIFT, or white lies is a tough, honest work that challenges audience perceptions throughout. Based in part on the playwright’s rocky relationship with his real-life brother, it makes one question the value of saying things someone else might want to hear, whether it’s true or not — white lies, as it were — to make someone feel better, or to achieve one’s own goals.

Luna Stage is to be commended for presenting this wonderfully powerful examination of familial conflict mirroring that of society. This show needs to be seen, and I cannot encourage you enough to make the trip to West Orange to experience RIFT, or white lies!

RIFT, or white lies is presented by the Luna Stage in West Orange through March 10, 2024.  For more information, or to purchase tickets, go to lunastage.org or call 973-395-5551.

Allen Neuner
Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first Broadway play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. Allen has been accepted into the American Theatre Critics Association, a professional organization of theatre journalists. He has been partnered to music reviewer Bill Realman Stella, with whom he is also deliriously in love, for over 20 years. They live in an over-cluttered house in Somerville.