B*

Hoo-rah!

  • Fully-committed, entertaining performance by the great John Lithgow
  • sumptuous, thoroughly-cinematic set design. Watching transitions was a treat!
  • I liked the Russian character’s accent-evolution. At the beginning, we get to hear full-on Russian– at the end, him convinced his English has lost all trace of accent (but of course it hasn’t)
  • solid acting all around– you felt these people age
  • a reasonably clear and focused character study on what it means to loose relevancy as you age. Alternate play title: ‘How I Learned to Become a Grumpy Old Man and Start Hating the Youth!’

Blech…

  • Stakes never felt high… yes he’s gay, but even in that time period that secret never felt terrible enough to ruin his life/career. Everyone (including the audience) already knew he was gay!
  • Not a single major-reversal in the whole play
  • His only real antagonist was his own stubbornness, and if a protagonist is only as interesting as his greatest antagonist…
  • None of his relationships with the other characters developed enough for me to particularly care about them. (spoiler alert) Someone dies… and it didn’t mean anything to me.
  • Abrupt ending– silly to think the final ‘reversal’ of the play is him showing a small act of decency at the terrible terrible cost of being a little late with his column.

 

 

 

*My first side note:  You’ve undoubtedly noticed a boringly narrow range of grades in my reviews thus far. Unfortunately, that’s because most of the shows I’ve been seeing in New York have neither blown me away, nor felt like a complete waste of time.

 

There’s an unfortunate level of ‘safety’ that permeates American theater; plays seem to be chosen for performance based more on the quality of language in them than on the depth of human experience conveyed. I thought this might be different in NYC, but it seems to be even more true here than in other parts of the country. Elsewhere, lackluster plays are performed by talented nobodies. In NYC, lackluster plays are performed by movie stars.

 

This makes me sad.

 

If you look at the my full score page, you’ll see I do indeed give As and Cs and even a few Ds, and a lot of that came out of England. England, whether its because of their vastly superior funding, or higher public-acceptance of theatre seems to make them feel comfortable taking genuine risks. And deep down, I know that I’d rather see a play that hits me in the face really hard with something new that I despise than to see a tepid rumination on slice-of-life characters with stakes I have little to no investment in. After all, a show like …some trace of her could have been terrible. It was new, experimental, bizarrely-conveyed. Yet that’s probably the last time I walked out of a theater with butterflies in my stomach.

 

I want to be moved. I want my values challenged. I want to be rooting for a thing to happen, or terrified that another thing could happen. I want to be taken on a journey that makes me sick to my stomach, makes me bite my nails in suspense, makes my eyes dry from lack of blinking, makes me weep uncontrollably, makes me want to leap for joy– maybe all in the same performance.

 

I don’t believe theatre should be light entertainment. I believe it should be a transformative, world-shaking experience. And don’t tell me it’s not possible, because I’ve had it happen. And every time I go into a theater, I’m begging to have it happen again.