Sunday, March 20, 2016

Antlia Pneumatica **

After three previous disappointments (Mr. Burns, Ipheginia in Aulis at CSC and 10 out of 12) I did not have high hopes for Anne Washburn’s new play now at Playwrights Horizons. Alas, my low expectations were met. This reunion of 40-somethings to bury a college friend is only superficially similar to “The Big Chill.” It has a major gimmick and a few minor ones, none of which worked for me. Nina (Annie Parisse) and Liz (April Matthis) are sisters from California who have chosen their family’s vacation ranch in the Texas hill country as the site of the memorial service for Sean, their friend from college days in Austin. Ula (Maria Striar) and Len (Nat DeWolf) are friends who have come for the ceremony. Adrian (Rob Campbell), Nina’s former lover with whom she has been out of touch for 14 years, is an unexpected arrival. We also hear the offstage voices of Nina’s children Casey (Skylar Dunn) and Wally (Azhy Robertson). Late in the play, another friend Bama (Crystal Finn) arrives with a story that casts all that has transpired in a new light. We watch the preparations for the feast. We hear snippets of conversations from offstage. A few scenes are performed in near total darkness. The sequence of events is deliberately muddled. All this might have involved me more if the characters had been more interesting. They are clearly individuated, but insufficiently developed. The big reveal was a meager payoff for the long, slow, talky buildup. Rachel Hauck's rustic set is attractive, as are Jessica Pabst's costumes. Ken Rus Schmoll (The Invisible Hand) directs with a sure hand. Washburn is greatly admired by many in the theatrical community. I wish I could see what they see. Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes without intermission.

NOTE: Antlia Pneumatica (The Air Pump) is the name of an obscure constellation, one of several named for scientific instruments by French astronomer Lacalle.

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