Sunday, August 26, 2012

Detroit ****

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
With widely acclaimed runs in Chicago and London as well as nominations for both the Pulitzer and Blackburn Prizes, Lisa D'Amour's play arrives in New York with expectations high. Instead of Broadway, where it was originally destined, it has ended up at Playwrights Horizons, a more suitable home. The action takes place in two adjacent houses in a Levittown-like suburb that is showing the effects of changing times. Mary (Amy Ryan) and Ben (David Schwimmer) invite their new neighbors Sharon (Sarah Sokolovic) and Kenny (Darren Pettie) over for a backyard barbecue. Ben, laid off from his bank job, is home all day working on an internet-based business start-up while Mary works as a paralegal. Although stung by the Great Recession, they have thus far successfully hung onto their middle-class life. Kenny works in a warehouse and Sharon, in a call center; they recently met in rehab. They are virtually penniless and are making, at best, a half-hearted effort to better their lives. The two couples have very different world views and would never have become friends if proximity had not intervened. A series of mishaps plagues their get-togethers and their relationship eventually spins into chaos. The awkward final scene introduces a new character, Frank (John Cullum), to put events into historical perspective. Each character has at least one highly charged monologue. The women's parts are developed much more fully than the men's. Schwimmer seems to play the same character whatever he is in. Pettie is fine and the two actresses are excellent. Cullum is mostly wasted. The revolving set by Louisa Thompson is perfect. Kaye Voyce's costumes are fine. Anne Kauffman's direction gets over the play's lumpy spots fairly well. The theme of the loss of neighborliness in a declining America is not particularly original. The play has many flaws, but also many virtues, including lots of energy. D'Amour has an original voice and I look forward to her future work. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes without intermission.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Heartless *

The world premiere production of Sam Shepard's latest play is now in previews at the Signature Theatre. Let me begin by confessing that I have always preferred Shepard the actor to Shepard the playwright. There is something about his subject matter, his blend of humor, drama, lyricism and the absurd that has rarely appealed to me. Seeing Heartless has not made me a convert. The action takes place at a home overlooking Los Angeles inhabited by two sisters, their wheelchair-bound mother and her mysterious nurse. The younger sister, who has a huge scar running down her torso, has invited an older professor of Spanish literature, who has run out on his marriage, to move in. What follows is a hodgepodge of half-developed ideas that do not lead anywhere. Just when a situation gets interesting, Shepard drops it and goes elsewhere. Shepard does give each member of the fine cast (Jenny Bacon, Gary Cole, Betty Gilpin, Julianne Nicholson and Lois Smith) a chance to shine. I found Gilpin and Smith especially strong. Cole looked a bit too young for a 65-year old. Eugene Lee's bleak set makes awkward use of the stage, wasting most of the available space and thrusting into the front row of seats. Daniel Aukin's direction seemed sluggish, but that could just be the play. It was a frustrating evening. Running time: 2 hours, including intermission.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Harrison, TX ***

(Please click on the title to see the entire review.)
This evening of three short plays by Horton Foote, now in previews at Primary Stages, is not on the same high level as The Orphans' Home Cycle or Dividing the Estate, but it does offer moments of pleasure. Only the location -- the fictionalized version of Foote's hometown where most of his works take place -- unites the three plays. The first, Blind Date, is an affectionately satirical sketch about an aunt trying to teach her visiting niece a lesson in charm before an arranged date. Although the sketch eventually runs out of steam, it is the most satisfying of the trio. The One-Armed Man, a short but brutal confrontation between an injured man and the boss he blames. presents a jarring and unpleasant contrast. The longest and most ambitious play, The Midnight Caller, vividly portrays the soul-sucking, circumscribed life of the residents of a boarding house and the disruption caused by the arrival of two newcomers. The cast of nine (Devon AbnerMary BaconJeremy BobbAlexander CendeseHallie FooteAndrea Lynn GreenJayne Houdyshell, Evan Jonigkeit, and Jenny Dare Paulin) are all excellent. Kaye Voyce's costumes clearly evoke the time and place. Marion Williams' set is also evocative, but falters a bit in the third play when a corner of the stage suddenly has to represent a bedroom. Pam MacKinnon's direction is smooth and direct. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes without an intermission.