Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Vandal ***

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
Actor Hamish Linklater's (School for Lies, Seminar) debut effort as a playwright is now at The Flea Theater. Deirdre O'Connell (Circle Mirror Transformation, In the Wake) plays a withdrawn woman waiting for a bus at a stop in Kingston, NY near a hospital and a cemetery. Noah Robbins (The Twenty-Seventh Man) portrays a loquacious, philosophical 17-year old boy who pesters her until she agrees to buy him beer at a nearby liquor store. The somewhat menacing man who owns the liquor store, played by Zach Grenier (33 Variations, The Good Wife), claims to be the boy's father. In each of four scenes in which the characters exchange self-protective lies, the woman appears with either the boy or the man. There is a big reveal near the end that changes your understanding of all that has preceded. The actors are all top-notch and the dialog flows effortlessly. Clearly Linklater has a love of words and a talent for giving actors a chance to shine. A lengthy monologue in praise of Cool Ranch Doritos may not sound enticing, but it drew applause. The set by David M. Barber is modest, but efficient. Claudia Brown's costumes are fine. Jim Simpson's direction is smooth. The play seems a bit slight and the ending a bit flat. Nevertheless, Linklater shows a lot of promise and I look forward to seeing his next effort. Running time: 75 minutes.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Clive [zero stars]

(Please click on the title to see the full review.)
Having enjoyed The New Group's production of Jonathan Marc Sherman's play "Things We Want" directed by Ethan Hawke about five years ago, I was looking forward to seeing "Clive," Sherman's adaptation of Brecht's "Baal," directed by and starring Hawke. To say I was disappointed would be a gross understatement. Although it's only January, this is my nomination for worst play of the year -- any year. The dissolute poet in Brecht's early play has been transposed to a rock-and-roll musician with a large capacity for booze, drugs and sex. Unfortunately, as told be Sherman, his tale is an incoherent, indulgent, boring mess! About the only good thing I can say about it is that I enjoyed seeing Vincent D'Onofrio onstage. Other cast members include Brooks Ashmanskas, Stephanie Janssen, Mahira Kakkar, Zoe Kazan, Aaron Krohn, Dana Lyn and the playwright. Derek McLane's high-concept set included seven doors that double as musical instruments. Catherine Zuber's costumes are clever, which is more than I can say about the play. I would rather undergo root canal surgery than sit through this play again. Running time: one hour, 40 minutes without intermission.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Heiress **

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If you never saw the film or the revival with Cherry Jones, you might enjoy the current Broadway production of Ruth and August Goetz's adaptation of Henry James's Washington Square. But if you did see either one, you may well be disappointed in this uneven production starring Jessica Chastain, David Strathairn and Dan Stevens, directed by Moises Kaufman. Chastain's take on Catherine Sloper as pathologically shy, yet frisky, in the early scenes is an interesting but questionable choice. Her performance strengthened in the second half. Strathairn, whom I have greatly admired in the past, seemed distracted and bored here. Stevens cut a fine figure and effectively conveyed the ambiguity of his character. The most commanding presence onstage was Judith Ivey as the well-meaning meddling aunt. I could not grasp what Kaufman was aiming for; too often he appeared to be going for easy laughs. There was too much declaiming and too little communicating. The production just didn't seem to cohere. Derek McLane's imposing set and Albert Wolsky's sumptuous costumes were excellent. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes including intermission.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Jammer ****

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
The prospect of seeing a play about roller derby in Brooklyn in the 1950s did not fill me with eager anticipation, so I am happy to report that Rolin Jones's comedy at Atlantic Stage 2 turned out to be a delight. Patch Darragh is superb as Jack Lovington, a working stiff from Bushwick, raised in a Catholic orphanage, who follows his dream to join the roller derby despite the disapproval of his long-time fiancee.  Jeanine Serraleles is a hoot as a bipolar derby player and Billy Eugene Jones is amusing as the team manager. The rest of the cast (Todd Weeks, Greg Stuhr, Keira Naughton, Kate Rigg, Dan Domingues, Christopher Jackson) excel at multiple roles including a colorful group of roller derby players and St. Barbara's two priests, one Polish and the other Hispanic, as the parish struggles to adapt to population change. Much of the fun comes from the play's inventive staging. Often it suggests a living cartoon, complete with characters played by cardboard cutouts. Director Jackson Gay deserves a lot of credit, as do movement consultant Monica Bill Barnes, violence consultant (is that the new euphemism for fight master?) J. David Brimmer, set designer Wilson Chin and costume designer Jessica Ford. A few of the scenes, particularly one on the Coney Island Cyclone, drag on a bit too long, but that did not diminish my enjoyment. Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Picnic **

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60 years ago, William Inge's drama of sexual repression in a small Kansas town won the Pulitzer. Alas, time has not been kind. What must have seemed daring and edgy then has lost most of its force. It may be churlish to find fault with a production that brings us such fine actors as Mare Winningham, Ellen Burstyn, Elizabeth Marvel and Reed Birney, but the focus of the play is on Maggie Grace and Sebastian Stan, who, although they each look terrific, do not generate much heat. The supporting cast, which includes Madeleine Martin, Ben Rappaport, Maddie Corman, Cassie Beck, Chris Perfetti and Lizbeth Mackay, are all fine, but that only underlines the relative weakness of the central couple. Marvel and Birney virtually steal the play. After the horrible set he created for "Look Back in Anger," I was surprised to see Roundabout turn again to Andrew Lieberman. He apparently likes shallow, cramped sets. The rusty corrugated panels that fill the stage behind the two houses are most unattractive. Perhaps his intent was to illustrate the confines of small-town life, but his set is ungainly. David Zinn's costumes recreate the period well. Sam Gold's direction works most of the time, but the lack of a charismatic lead couple undercuts the play's impact. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes including intermission.