An Intact Originality and Character

David (Jesse Eisenberg), the protagonist of Mr. Eisenberg’s new play, bears some resemblance to Edgar, the part he played in Asuncion, his first work for the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater: he is an entitled, pot smoking vegetarian whose condescension does not prevent him from prefacing every sentence with, “Sorry.”  But unlike Edgar, David is not particularly sympathetic.  Edgar was a misguided but generally good-hearted kid; one could imagine that after a good talking to, he would see his liberalism as a kind of reverse White Man’s Burden.  But about halfway through The Revisionist, when David asks his Polish second cousin, Maria (Vanessa Redgrave), “Am I terrible person?” and she answers in the affirmative, he refuses to accept it. Continue reading “An Intact Originality and Character”

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Leaving a Doll’s House

The Madrid is difficult to write about.  It is not good, but it is not bad, either.  It is not interesting, but it is not boring.  It seems to simply exist and it is difficult to imagine anyone in the cast and crew feeling passionately about Liz Flahive’s play or anyone in their audience either loving or hating it.  It is inoffensive, which sometimes can be worse than terrible. Continue reading “Leaving a Doll’s House”

Out of Place Everywhere, at Home Nowhere

In the summer of 1867, a group of Chinese-American railroad workers (“coolies”) go on strike for a ten dollar raise and an eight hour workday: “Good for white man, all same good for Chinaman.”  While they wait for the negotiations to end, they gamble and tell outrageous stories, placated by opium and big dreams.  But all this is at the periphery of David Henry Hwang’s The Dance and the Railroad, which opens on one man, the appropriately named Lone (Yueken Wu), dancing by himself in silhouette.  He is a former actor from a Chinese opera company who was forced into American labor but who continues to practice for a part he will never play, Gwan Gung.  For Lone, art is escape, it is discipline, and it is liberation from his awful circumstances. Continue reading “Out of Place Everywhere, at Home Nowhere”

A Very Merry War

Last year, Arin Arbus directed a wonderful Taming of the Shrew for TFANA and this season she returns with her star Maggie Siff for Much Ado About Nothing, an appropriate, complicated companion piece.  But where Shrew succeeded because it treated the text with the appropriate amount of irony, Much Ado falters because it fails to address the darkness in Shakespeare’s play.  Marjorie Garber notes that “although [it] is formally a comedy, [it] is full of dark moments, and often threatens to veer into tragedy.”  It is layered “with a constant subtext of unarticulated pain and loss.” Continue reading “A Very Merry War”

Lord, Don’t They Help Themselves?

A night of drunken revelries on the eve of midterms finds Leigh (Zosia Mamet) in bed with Davis (Matt Lauria) while her boyfriend, Jimmy (Evan Jonigkeit), is out of town.  Leigh cries rape—and Davis, who blacked out, can’t remember—though both Leigh’s best friend, the closeted lesbian Grace (Lauren Culpepper), and Davis’ roommate, Cooper (David Hull), don’t believe her.  Meanwhile, Johnson (Kobi Libii), a friend of the guys, backs away from the incident to avoid being associated with the crime. Continue reading “Lord, Don’t They Help Themselves?”

With Ethan Hawke at the Helm, Unreality Bites, Too

The only interesting thing about Ethan Hawke is that no actor so lousy has tried so aggressively to trade in his celebrity for artistic credibility.  In Clive, a rewriting of Bertolt Brecht’s Baal, he plays a pretentious, narcissistic rocker with bleach-blond hair and a penchant for drinking and womanizing—quite the stretch.  And yet he can’t pull it off, draining the richness out of Brecht with his unique brand of nauseating histrionics as he has done previously with Chekhov and Shakespeare.  He is admittedly an indefatigable performer, shoveling his shit down our throats with impressive tenacity, presumably working under the assumption that if we see him enough we might finally think he is good.  But his stench has polluted New York theater for too long.  He should be run into the Hudson River by audiences bearing torches and pitchforks. Continue reading “With Ethan Hawke at the Helm, Unreality Bites, Too”

I Am Not That I Play

It seems appropriate to begin Women of Will, a personal exploration of gender, sex, and power in Shakespeare, with an excerpt from The Taming of the Shrew.  But despite a lifetime of working with the Bard, Tina Packer, the show’s creator and star, gets the play thoroughly wrong.  She jokes that as a “card-carrying feminist,” she should be appalled by Petruchio’s behavior, and poses that Kate, in accepting his demands, must either be manic, a Marilyn Monroe-type submissive, or clinically depressed.  Harold Bloom, typically spot-on, wrote that the two “are clearly going to be the happiest married couple in Shakespeare,” and that Kate is not giving in to her lover but “advising women how to rule absolutely, while feigning obedience.”  The title, of course, is ironic—Petruchio, blinded by vanity, is in fact the one being tamed. Continue reading “I Am Not That I Play”