Given James Franco’s reputation as multitasker extraordinaire (actor, filmmaker, writer, poet, artist, teacher, doctoral student, one-time Oscars co-host), it should come as no surprise that he found time to direct an Off-Broadway play while starring on Broadway in “Of Mice and Men.”

The Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, which is producing “The Long Shrift” at its space in the West Village, is becoming a hotspot for young celebs. It recently produced two of Jesse Eisenberg’s plays (which Eisenberg also appeared in) and Julia Stiles will appear in another one of its productions later this summer.

Who knows what attracted Franco to “The Long Shrift,” a problematic but engrossing contemporary drama about a male in his late 20s who was accused of rape in high school. Its playwright, Robert Boswell, is a Houston writing professor best known for his short stories.

As it begins, Richard (Scott Haze) has just been found guilty and his parents, forced to move to a smaller house due to his legal defense costs, debate his innocence, with his unsteady mother (Ally Sheedy) expressing serious doubt.

The next scene, set a decade later, has Richard returning home for his high school reunion. Lizzie (Ahna O’Reilly), his accuser, withdrew her accusations against him five years into his prison sentence. In spite of his vindication, Richard remains aimless and frustrated. 

It turns out that the girl who urged Richard to attend the reunion via email is Lizzie, who desperately wants to talk to him. The increasingly disturbed and erratic Richard insists that Lizzie join him at the reunion and, even creepier, that she wear one of his mother’s old dresses.

While the plot twists border on the unbelievable and parts of it are unwieldy, like a flashback within what is already a dream sequence, “The Long Shrift” is often than not gripping and dramatically charged. Franco’s well-acted production, full of raw emotion, helps overcome the lack of credibility.
 

 

If you go: “The Long Shrift” plays at the Rattlestick Theatre through Aug. 23. 224 Waverly Pl., rattlestick.org.