Friday, October 22, 2010

Theater: Reviews (October 22)

Most Fridays, I post capsule reviews of my week of theater on Metromix's blog. But since these reviews disappear with the listings, I thought I'd publish them here too. Enjoy!

Public Theater / 3LD
Pulitzer-winner Lawrence Wright reviews the terrible situation between Gaza and Israel, offering an astonishingly balanced point-of-view on a polarizing subject. Wright has the access, acumen, and perspective to go with his New Yorker credentials, but what skills he has as a reporter he lacks as a performer. He's rumpled and fumbling, and occasionally flubs a line. Luckily, he's got Oskar Eustis, head of the Public Theater, to help him shape and vivify the piece. They add texture to the reportage by projecting photos, footage, maps and other journalistic accessories. As for Gaza itself, it's hard to imagine how the situation could be any worse. The Human Scale may sound like a lecture, but it's not exactly. Wright and Eustis trade a lecture (or an article's) authority for the informality and intimacy of theater, reducing a situation of a global complexity to a human scale (aha!) without simplifying it.

Schoenfeld Theater
Stage stalwart Patrick Stewart (forever Captain Picard) shares the stage with TR Knight (House) in David Mamet's diverting but inconsequential Life in the Theatre. Both actors demonstrate great comic timing and indicate deeper, sadder facets to their characters. As the rookie's star rises, the veteran succumbs to professional jealousy and despair. But all that's deep in the subtext. Under Neil Pepe's direction, the darker thread gets only a little attention. His Life simply if hilariously depicts the dangers of live performance (a doorknob comes off; a wig slips; lines get skipped) and the vanity of actors. Contrast the in-show hijinks with the smooth operation of Santo Loquasto's set, whose traveling flats and sliding make-up tables suggest all the nooks of an old, musty theater. Life is good enough—the performers earn genuine laughs—but it's a minor show that you leave behind as soon as you leave the theater.

The Red Room
…is like an evening at a '40s bebop club. As each Pumpkin Pie actor takes centerstage to recite a monologue, the others sit attentively to one side, offering a chuckle at a particularly rich burst of actorly energy. Meanwhile, a sound artist tailors a musical backdrop to each speech on the fly. The audience nods to the words and the rhythm, cackles at the sick ironies of Clay McLeod Chapman's five gothic tales of American life. Four of Amber Alert's monologues approach the themes of youth and sex from deeply disturbing, often hilarious angles. The four pieces pry perversities from the American psyche, with Chapman and Hanna Cheek (Off-Off-Broadway's secret treasure) giving spiky, fearless performances. The odd one out, an odd little tale about a Texas boy who discovers a dead astronaut's diary, offers unironic pleasures. Though it's lovely and well-acted, cutting it from the program would focus the evening's themes.

59 East 59
Poet Sylvia Plath wrote this one-act for BBC Radio in 1962, less than a year before her suicide. British director Robert Shaw felt compelled to stage it, but neither the compulsion or its inspiration are evident onstage. The show's a dully literal set of monologues by three women who've delivered children—one wanted, one unplanned, one stillborn. The three young brunette actors are barely distinguishable from one another, both vocally and visually. And all are directed to speak the poetry in conversational tone, as if the play were confessional prose. The standard white American accent, with its slight lisp and adenoidal vowels, is a poor tool for creating a sonic landscape. The result is painful to listen to—and you need to listen to poetry closely when there's no action or character to accompany it. Sometimes plays are lost for a reason.

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