Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Off-Broadway: In the Summer Pavilion

Early on, the bare stage of Pavilion
evokes a more primal style;
later, it's simply dull & barren
(photo: Gerry Goodstein)
In the Summer Pavilion
Workshop Theater Company at 59E59
written by Paul David Young
directed by Kathy Gail MacGowan
October 17, 2012

An earnest, dull drama about the sundering of a youthful menage a trois. A frisky bacchanal in the titular gazebo segues to an ominous void, from which the protagonist―a melodramatically moody Princetonian―will visit his potential futures. This first “act” of the 75-minute drama has a primal sense of mystery that weirdly echoes late Greek drama like Oedipus at Colonus. But the show doesn't follow through on its initial prophetic promise. Instead, Pavilion cuts together a montage of the trio, ten years on, in permutations of coupledom and solitude. The performers show some green talent; the director and designers adroitly define a new setting every ten minutes. But the script's scenarios are limited to the near-utopian reality of the 1%. No matter how happy or un- they are, these kids will become international art dealers and high financiers. In the worst case, our Ivy grad kicks heroin to join an all-American terrorist cell. It's a preposterous caricature of Occupy as Weathermen 2.0! The woman, for her part, always gets paired off with one man or the other―so much for the future of feminism. Finally, the play repeats its opening. But the scenes that were incantory now seem like an empty gesture at the cyclical nature of something or other.


In the Summer Pavilion plays at 59E59, closing on November 3. Tickets?


Friday, October 26, 2012

Sci-Fi Theater: Heresy

Nearly alone in this show,
Reg Cathay doesn't phone his performance in
The Flea Theater
written by A.R. Gurney
directed by Jim Simpson

It's a measure of sci-fi's ubiquity in American theater that even A.R. Gurney, an 82-year-old WASP, sets his latest drama in a dystopia. It's “New America in the not-too-distant future, just long enough for five nation-wide “crackdowns” on un-American activity. The image that conjures—of NYPD bashing Occupy—is the only contemporary aspect of Gurney's setting. His targets are Bush-era: waterboarding, wiretaps, and massive databases on American citizenry get cited but not, say, drone assassination. Not a word about the Great Recession but plenty about a newfound unity of church and state. The near-absence of post-'08 malfeasance makes the play seem behind the times, already dated. The near-future resembles the near-past, but with a paranoid streak stemming from constant police surveillance. The lone bit of future-tech is a whooshing door out of BBC's MI-5.

If Heresy were stronger elsewhere, in script or show, Gurney's failure of imagination wouldn't matter so much. But the play is clumsy, its staging uninspired. Its basic conceit is awful: Mary (Annette O'Toole, wooden) visits DC to speak with Pilate about the arrest of her son, Chris. In case his audience misses his point, Gurney hamhandedly emphasizes the parallel: young officer Mark, transcribing the meeting, likes to re-translate prosaic dialogue back into its biblical phraseology. Jim Simpson ignores the script's blunt-edged satire, instead staging the play with a breezy tone. The flickers of enjoyment come from the always-awesome Reg E. Cathay, a Pilate whose bass voice belies a shallow desire for respect, and by Kathy Najimy as his tipsy wife, a society matron who says the dopiest things. The duo's rapport gives this doddering one-act its only moments of vitality.


Heresy plays at the Flea Theater, closing on November 4. Tickets?


Friday, October 19, 2012

Off-Broadway: Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812

Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812
Ars Nova
written and composed by Dave Molloy
directed by Rachel Chavkin
Monday, Oct. 15

Ars Nova: better than BAM and a quarter the cost. This month, the space in Hell's Kitchen hosts a chamber opera by the gifted Dave Molloy. He's set roughly 75 pages of War & Peace to 150 minutes of modernist music―a pomo polyglot of cellos, bass sax, drum loops, and accordions. That scenario could be abrasive, but Molloy, director Rachel Chavkin, and Ars Nova deliver instead a warm, immersive evening. The cozy theater has been converted into a 21C version of a Moscow salon, welcoming audiences with free vodka and black bread. Molloy embodies this generosity by taking the role of Pierre, one of Tolstoy's central characters, a Muscovite with a large heart and unhappy marriage. The character, in turn, represents part of Tolstoy's own artistic spirit: objective yet passionate, and possessed of a judiciously moral voice.

The show draws a slice from midway through the long novel, a brief but catastrophic debut of Pierre's friend Natasha into society and his attempt to salvage her reputation. After he's brought her a modest crumb of comfort, he spots that titular comet in the Russian night and has a moment of cosmic awareness. To reproduce the novel's intimate yet epic voice, Molloy employs a stylistic pastiche and shifts of tone and perspective. Aside from his Pierre, the minor role of Natasha's confidante offers the most “Tolstoyan” moment. As Sonya, Brittain Ashford possesses incredible emotional and tonal range as well as the slightest lisp, which lends specificity to her heart-heavy solo in act 2. Though each act has its slow stretches, it compensates with invaluable moments like this one. Theater of grandeur on a small stage, this show feels somehow indispensible to the artistic life of 2012.


Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812 plays at Ars Nova, closing on Nov. 10. Tickets?


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Broadway: An Enemy of the People

Only Michael Siberry (right), as decadent dad-in-law,
points the way to a new Ibsenesque,
an irrealism haunted by David Lynch hobgoblins 

MTC at the Friedman Theater
written by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Rebecca Lenkiewicz
directed by Doug Hughes
seen on September 28, 2012

A town's livelihood depends on its new spa, so it attacks a local doctor for proving that the cheap & dirty construction will spread disease, not cure it. Timed to coincide with the 2012 election, this revival of Ibsen's 1882 work finds its energy in condemning the know-nothing townspeople. Parallels to the Republican party draw themselves, of course. Adaptor Lenkiewicz polishes the play up with pithy dialogue and canny use of English idioms but she also cuts the protagonist's mulishness. Hughes follows her lead by directing a show that's light on subtext and heavy on rabble-rousing speechifying. Boyd Gaines, as the doctor, provides some depth, allowing himself to appear ridiculous by plumbing his middle-aged character's naïvety. MTC's impulse to stage Ibsen may be socially liberal but its aesthetics are too conservative to produce anything but easily-digestible melodrama. This Enemy's irony is that it's a safe crowd-pleaser about the wrongness of that approach in life, politics, and art.


An Enemy of the People runs through November 11. Tickets?