Fairview by Jackie Sibblies Drury
Soho Rep. / directed by Sarah Benson
Seen on June 28, 2018
Thumbs-up: Absolutely stunning. Everything was a supreme achievement—direction, performances, design, dramaturgy, and (above all) the work itself. Shattering in every sense of the word, certainly in more ways and on more levels than one.
Thumbs-down: Hmm… nothing? Maybe a minor point: The replay of the first part of the “play” with the overlaid conversation does grow slightly dull and somewhat predictable at some points. Yet I assume this is expected and perhaps even aimed for, given that the tyrannical familiarity of that script is central to our experience of it in this context.
Notes: At once intensely (and retrospectively) allegorical and disturbingly direct, Fairview is no less than a contemporary masterpiece. I needed a good 15 minutes after the show to come to my senses, and I have been thinking about it ever since. It affects one to the bone.
A Doll’s House, Part 3 | created and performed by Michael Breslin & Patrick Foley
Ars Nova / ANT Fest
Seen on June 26, 2018
Thumbs-up: The collage-like flow of the piece that could also build and sustain a skeletal narrative of its own. Incisive critiques of both contemporary and timeless questions that inhere in the practice of drama. Gloriously funny (and adept) performances by all four actors.
Thumbs-down: The last 5-7 minutes fell flat. The momentum of the show visibly dropped, and we were denied the final punch-in-the-face that I thought was in store for us. It wasn’t even clear, at least to me, what was taking place. Also, in general, I sensed a habitual over-reliance on the use of cameras and projections onstage, even when they did not seem to serve any particular purpose.
Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf by Kate Scelsa
Elevator Repair Service / directed by John Collins
Seen on June 23, 2018
Thumbs-up: Perhaps the strongest aspect of the production, one that I anticipated and secretly waited for, was the final transition from Martha and George’s living room to the alleged limbo of George’s afterlife. It was a near-flawless jump in terms of both narrative and design, and certainly stood out. Overall, the performances were pleasing, though I developed a greater affinity towards and appreciation for Vin Knight and Annie McNamara. In terms of writing, there were around a dozen hilariously sharp and laugh-out-loud funny moments.
Thumbs-down: The play could have been much stronger (and funnier!). This version of it should have been treated as a draft, or a work-in-progress, and it should have been developed in a number of ways, not the least of which pertain to structure, characterizations, and the nature (and scope) of the cultural critique that it’s engaged in. I do see the potential in both the work itself and the motivation behind it, and I wish it had found the final form it deserves. In addition, the scenic design of the living room could have been at least a bit more sophisticated.
Notes: Though filled with some great moments of acerbic humor and with aptly edgy performances, Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf does require substantial revisions to its text—and demands a more focused approach, on the part of the playwright and the ensemble, to its critical agenda.
Woman and Scarecrow by Marina Carr
Irish Repertory Theatre / directed by Ciaran O’Reilly
Seen on June 21, 2018
Thumbs-up: This is an exquisitely written, lyrically explosive, and teasingly ambiguous play. The production featured a surprisingly strong cast, and especially the two lead women—Stephanie Roth Haberle and Pamela J. Gray—kept their performances refreshingly intricate. Ryan Rumery’s sound design and Michael Gottlieb’s lighting elegantly enhanced the tonal and narrative turns of the play.
Thumbs-down: I often favor small and intimate performance spaces, yet this was by far the tiniest (and most uncomfortable) stage I have ever seen. The production could have really benefited from a wider range of blocking opportunities for all four of the actors. I could see on their faces that they felt constrained by the size of the stage and wanted to move beyond it. Though much in keeping with the central idea, and feel, of the play, this sense of entrapment suppressed the true potential of the production.
Notes: What a joy it is to have finally seen for myself how delightfully talented Marina Carr is! And this production, with its many strengths, was perhaps the best introduction to her work.
The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill
Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre / directed by George C. Wolfe
Seen on June 20, 2018
Thumbs-up: Denzel Washington as Hickey was the force that energized the whole play and made it not only endurable (mainly time-wise), but enjoyable. He breathed a very distinct life to his character and embraced it fully. Other outstanding performances belonged to Reg Rogers (Jimmy), Michael Potts (Joe), and Bill Irvin (Ed). Further, the tonal and stylistic shift from Act 3 to Act 4 was especially refreshing and memorable.
Thumbs-down: David Morse as Larry was a great disappointment. He simply did not embody the inherent richness and complexity of his character and overacted most of the time (arguably to compensate for the former weakness). Especially when juxtaposed with Washington’s fierceness, Morse’s slovenly performance was even more frustrating. Austin Butler as Don was yet another significant casting mistake: he just was not the right person for his role. In terms of design elements, the frequent changes in light—both intensity and color—drew too much attention to the artificiality of the stage action and really bothered me. I would venture to claim that they cheapened the production.
Notes: Despite a bravura performance by Denzel Washington, this production suffered from some significant directorial and dramaturgical problems. There were quite a few scenes where blocking was not the most ideal, storytelling was not clear, and performances were not satisfying. Washington, in a sense, saved the play.
Dance Nation by Clare Barron
Playwrights Horizons / directed and choreographed by Lee Sunday Evans
Seen on June 17, 2018
Thumbs-up: A dazzlingly original and thought-provoking play—at times hysterically funny and emotionally devastating. Top-notch cast, but the greatest applause should go to Eboni Booth as Zuzu and to Lucy Taylor as Ashlee. The central casting detail, that these 13-year-old girls are being played by adult women of varying ages, enhances (and complicates) the play in too many ways to count. The freshness and vibrancy of the choreography should also be noted.
Thumbs-down: Nothing major at all. Two very minor things: The scenic moon image, which appears in two extended night-time scenes, felt too literal and was unnecessary. Amina’s final monologue lacked some of its requisite energy and punch (perhaps because of the understudy performance?).
Notes: This work must be seen by all. It masterfully interweaves a variety of ideas and realities that are both timely and timeless.
St. Vincent’s Project: Novenas for a Lost Hospital by Cusi Cram [workshop production]
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater / directed by Daniella Topol
Seen on June 15, 2018
Thumbs-up: Kathleen Chalfant’s unwavering command and grace. In the play, the prayers/sections 7 and 8: their dramatic strength and impact far surpassed those of the preceding ones. The pilgrimage-like, immersive conclusion that felt like both an intervention into the public space and an enactment of what the piece was implicitly “preaching.”
Thumbs-down: The first half of the piece (the interactive opening and the first half of the play itself) definitely needs more work. The 20 minutes that elapses between the ending of the interactive portion and the start of the play completely annuls whatever impact that opening might have on the spectator. The transition should ideally be seamless; otherwise there is no point to starting the piece in this very particular register. As for the play itself, it took me a good half hour to discern its formal architecture, which is an unnecessarily long time. The quality of the writing in the first four scenes was considerably inferior to the elegant yet crisp text of the concluding scenes. Also, it might be a good idea to declutter the plot and the characters from the all-too-obvious echoes of Angels in America.
Notes: For all its considerable weaknesses, this piece ended up getting its point(s) across, and did so in an especially unexpected way (i.e. through a hybrid of site-specific immersion and conventional spectatorship). It took a relatively long time for me to get into the rhythm of the work, but once I did, I wanted to dwell there longer.