Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Designated Mourner ***

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
The Public Theater has revived Wallace Shawn's 1996 play with the original cast of the 2000 New York production -- the playwright as Jack, the title character; Deborah Eisenberg (in real life, Shawn's life partner and accomplished author) as his wife Judy, and Larry Pine as her father Howard, a poet. The play takes place in an unnamed country with an oppressive regime battling a proletarian underground, with collateral damage to the intelligentsia. Howard has a devoted clique who share his contempt for everyone outside their circle. Howard and Judy's leftist leanings eventually lead them both to grief. When things get rough, the apolitical Jack abandons them and undergoes a series of inner crises that lead to his increasing alienation from reality. The play is basically a set of interlocking monologues, with occasional snippets of conversation and virtually no onstage action. To be honest, there was a point about 45 minutes into the play when I wondered how I could make it to intermission (at the 1 hour, 40 minute mark), let alone to play's end. But then, I became more engrossed in it and stayed. I am glad I did because the best scenes are in the second act. Shawn's vivid writing ranges from the poetic to the grotesque. His performance is gripping. Eisenberg grew on me as the evening progressed. Pine, in the smallest role, seemed bland and devoid of charisma. Andre Gregory's direction is, as one would expect, assured, but he made some quirky choices, such as having the audio technician install the actors' mikes after they arrived onstage and placing a glaringly bright fluorescent light on the front edge of the stage for the second act. The minimalist set was effective and the sound design was excellent. I would credit those responsible, but, for reasons unknown, the theater did not give out programs. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes including intermission.

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