The House That Will Not Stand by Marcus Gardley
New York Theatre Workshop / directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz
Seen on July 17, 2018
Thumbs-up: A beautifully written play, at once narratively engaging and deeply poetic, receives a masterful treatment in the hands of a capable director and a breathtaking cast. Virtually everything about this production was superb, and so much of the play’s underlying energies were impressively let free and cultivated. Adam Rigg’s elegant scenic design, Yi Zhao’s attentive lighting, and Raja Feather Kelly’s seamless choreography made this whole even more delectable. From the pre-show (with its great selection of music) to the play’s final moment, my experience was that of an enchanted spectator.
Borders by Henry Naylor
Next Door @ New York Theatre Workshop / co-directed by Louise Scaaning and Michael Cabot
Seen on July 16, 2018
Thumbs-up: The last five minutes of the play, when the two stories start to intersect, certainly comprised its strongest aspect, and I believe that the script and/or the production could have dwelled there more. Though her acting tried to reconcile multiple registers and tonalities (and alas, failed), Avital Lvova did have some outstanding moments, particularly in the second half of the show. The dynamic use of the stools was also smart.
Thumbs-down: The vast majority of the play deals with very obvious “messages” (for so they are) and sets store by characters and situations that border on the stereotypical despite their indisputable reality. Especially the first third of the play could have been more engaging and architectural (the way it starts to be in its last third). Most of the problems with both of the performances can be attributed to weaknesses in direction, despite (or perhaps because of) the involvement of two directors. Chief among them is that the tonal and stylistic variations of the text did not translate into acting and thereby got heavily obscured.
Notes: Even though the play never met the affective and thematic aspirations it so clearly sets for itself, its final gesture was still powerful and threw somewhat of a redeeming light on the work as a whole.
Sleep No More
Punchdrunk / directed by Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle
Seen on July 15, 2018
Thumbs-up: As good as immersive theater can ever get. Delectably haunting and endlessly atmospheric, Sleep No More epitomizes what it means for the theatre to truly create an an experiential reality—one that makes you forget, or not care about, your own for as long as three hours. The sheer attention to detail in all corners of the McKittrick is enough by itself to make this show a supreme achievement. The extraordinary choreography, with its unique blend of the lyrical and the narrative, is mesmerizing. And though it’s very difficult to single out a scene as a favorite, the Witches’ Rave would once again emerge as the winner. Finally, this time around, my one-on-one with Banquo—in which he knighted me after having taken my mask off and given me a hug—illustrated with even more force the insurmountable depths and intricacies of the show.
Teenage Dick by Mike Lew
Ma-Yi Theater Company in association with The Public Theater / directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel
Seen on July 12, 2018
Thumbs-up: Particularly energetic and entertaining performances by Gregg Mozgala (Richard) and Shannon DeVido (Buck). I’ve also greatly enjoyed the elegant transitions between scenes, as well as their masterfully staged endings. Sound and lighting were very strong as well.
Thumbs-down / Notes: I believe that the production did a good job of tackling a play that has some central problems regarding its very explicit relationship to Shakespeare’s Richard III. Put simply, this would have been a stronger play had it freed itself from the task of being a witty adaptation of Richard III. Besides some quite self-conscious (and unoriginal) references to Richard III in particular and to Shakespeare in general, the play does not take its relationship to the source text seriously enough to justify its self-designation as an adaptation. I understand that the discourse of Shakespeare’s play on disability is what Lew is primarily dealing with here, but he could have taken us to a far more interesting place by the end of the work if he had not tied himself so much, though so haphazardly, to Richard III. At its very best, this play offers us an engaging critique of certain social and political realities that are wildly resonant today, but a handful of rival moments threaten this achievement by pulling the play down to a much simpler and less original plane. If, alternatively, Lee’s contention was primarily with Shakespeare’s work, then Teenage Dick truly falls short of that aim, as it is too tame in its engagement with that play to even come close to a subversion or deconstruction of it.
Log Cabin by Jordan Harrison
Playwrights Horizons / directed by Pam Mackinnon
Seen on July 10, 2018
Thumbs-up: The only decent performances were by Dolly Wells and Talene Monahon. Allen Moyer’s scenic design was impressive and elegant, though its revolving structure was overexploited. The play itself does have a handful of sitcom-like, genuinely funny moments. Perhaps more important, the scenes with the baby (smartly played by Ian Harvie) were the only substantially packed, and interesting, moments. I wish the entire play was based on that story and played further with the motif of infantile speech and language.
Thumbs-down: This was a very disappointing and unguided (or misguided?) play. I would use the word “pointless,” but it tried way too hard to make, and re-make, several banal points that I have to say it was “frustratingly pointed.” The entire work was one didactic rant superimposed on its flat characters’ trivial and poorly written problems and conflicts. Especially in its last third, the play depended almost entirely on unrealistic characterizations and turns of events. The mediocre acting, especially (and sadly) by Jesse Tyler Ferguson, ended up contributing amply to this displeasing effect.
Notes: There were so many problems with this play (and this production) that I suspect if it was “developed” at all. The boys-and-girls story told by one baby to another in the penultimate scene is actually emblematic of this scattershot and superficial play—and the infantile way in which it treats its audience.
Pass Over by Antoinette Nwandu
Lincoln Center Theater at the Claire Tow / directed by Danya Taymor
Seen on July 8, 2018
Thumbs-up: Commanding performances by all three actors. Precise and refined direction by Taymor. The self-aware way in which the play cites and manages to build on its literary precursors. I found the strongest, and most original, portions of the play to be both of Mister’s scenes with Moses and Kitch (first meeting and the ending). The explicit instability of the play’s setting (i.e., the characters’ recurrent references to plantations and Egypt functioning as a Freudian slip of sorts) was also refreshingly profound.
Thumbs-down: The second half of the play sometimes lagged, even lapsed, primarily in its language. Even though the narrative itself and stage action were still strong, some of the lines lost their previous charm, and some others entered a territory that was too didactic. The scene of Moses’ miracles, for example, was remarkable in its unexpectedness and symbolic potency, yet its spoken lines were too flat and not as lyrical as I would have them be (e.g., “Stop killing us!”).
Notes: Despite a few disappointing moments in its language, Pass Over greatly impressed me with its performances, its narrative trajectory, and its formal amalgamation of allegory and (magical) realism.
Girls & Boys by Dennis Kelly
Minetta Lane Theatre / directed by Lyndsey Turner
Seen on July 6, 2018
Thumbs-up: An indelibly captivating performance by Carey Mulligan: nuanced, controlled, and spellbinding. An intelligently written, harrowing play by Dennis Kelly—one that slowly comes to its shattering boil, and justifies its monological form by gesturing toward the self-directed, self-healing potentialities of performance. Exquisite scenic design.
Thumbs-down: Very minor, but the final moment with the projection could have been slightly prolonged and its significance more clearly conveyed.
Notes: Fascinating. It’s a rare experience to travel slowly, and unwittingly, over the course of a single play from one extreme of unbridled humor to one of unimaginable darkness.