Sunday, May 8, 2016

Signature Plays **

On paper it must have seemed like a good idea to present a triple bill of revived short works by playwrights who were in Signature Theatre’s Legacy program. For someone like me who has a limited tolerance for absurdist theater, the results were not gratifying. Yesterday’s avant garde often seems quaint or just annoying today. 

Edward Albee’s “The Sandbox” at least offered a bit of drollery and a chance to see three fine actors — Alison Fraser, Frank Wood and Phyllis Somerville as Mommy, Daddy and Grandma, respectively— and hunky Ryan-James Hatanaka as The Young Man. Melody Giron played the cello. 

Maria Irene Fornes’s “Drowning” is a strange tale of unrequited love in which the three characters — Pea (Mikeah Ernest Jennings), Roe (Sahr Ngaujah) and Stephen (Wood again) — are dressed like humans but inexplicably wear grotesque masks that make them look more like sea lions. 

The longest and most complex work is Adrienne Kennedy’s “Funnyhouse of a Negro,” a surrealistic look at racial identity and racism through the mind of Sarah (Crystal Dickinson), a mixed-race graduate student on the Upper West Side. Except for her landlady (Fraser) and her boyfriend (Nicholas Bruder), all the characters represent aspects of Sarah’s inner conflict. They include Queen Victoria Regina (April Matthis), the Duchess of Hapsburg (January LaVoy), Patrice Lumumba (Ngaujah), Jesus (Jennings), and Sarah’s mother (Pia Glenn.) The short scenes are punctuated by blackouts. Along about the tenth one, I began praying that the next would be the last. While I can appreciate the impact the play must have had when new, it just didn’t work for me now.

The production values are first-rate with sets by Mimi Lien, costumes by Kaye Voyce and lighting by Mark Barton. Lila Neugebauer directed. Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including two intermissions.

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