Archive for July 2015

Strong Production, Profound Show: INTO THE WOODS at Toby’s

The characters are all compelled by circumstances to go back into the woods, and this time they encounter there such things as infidelity, divorce, the death of parents, the death of children, abandonment, catastrophe – and overarching this the absence of a narration (the narrator becomes a casualty) or any other authoritative guidance as to the choices that need to be made. As one of the characters observes: ‘The path has strayed from you.’ The unsettling conclusion: ‘You decide what’s right / You decide what’s good.’ This is all incredibly sad and confusing, not to mention frightening, and yet as the core of surviving characters gels, so does the indomitability of the human spirit they evince.

Linguistic Marriage Counseling and Character Acting in a Comic Soufflé: THE FULL CATASTROPHE at Contemporary American Theater Festival

For a weightless and elegant good time, it would be hard to beat The Full Catastrophe, by Michael Weller, at the Contemporary American Theater Festival. There is not one thing in the story to tether it to reality, or trouble us with any true sense of its characters being in any kind of jeopardy, and the presentation of the whole farrago, under Ed Herendeen’s direction, is smooth and amiable. This play is best consumed at the end of one’s visit to this year’s Festival, after sampling the weightier and more nutritional fare.

A Fashion-Tinged Shaggy Dog Story: EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH at Contemporary American Theater Festival

The overall effect is a bit like a fireworks display, with loud fun things happening more or less continually. It is not profound, a quality seldom looked for in shaggy dog stories, but the tale at its heart, a whimsical family drama, is sturdy enough, and perhaps the place where a more genuine feminism is lurking than may be found in the odd evocation of fashion.

Scofflaw Playwriting, Standout Acting: ON CLOVER ROAD at Contemporary American Theater Festival

The action, from the shadowy world of religious cults and deprogrammers, takes place in the ruins of a derelict motel, where distraught mother Kate (Tasha Lawrence) has been brought by Stine (Lee Sellars), a supposed specialist in reuniting abandoned parents with cult-brainwashed youngsters. Stine intends (so he says) to abduct Kate’s daughter from the cult’s commune and work with her here. The shockingly scuzzy room tells us immediately is that something is terribly wrong with Kate and Stine’s scheme. So does a financial fact revealed in the early going. In the course of the play, we find out what that something and several other somethings are.

The Messy But Effective Premiere of WE ARE PUSSY RIOT at the Contemporary American Theater Festival

The success of PUSSY RIOT rests upon what author Barbara Hammond gets right. This includes a recreation of an actual Pussy Riot provocation/performance; excerpts from the Russian government’s show trial which rely largely on the actual words of the defendants, lawyers, and judge; and the language and attitudes of the authorities, especially the police and the judiciary, which are notorious. And overarching these, the show nails the crisis of authority and legitimacy for the Russian state and the Russian Orthodox Church a crisis the Pussy Riot protestors helped exacerbate for a while to an acuteness sharper than even the play conveys.

Personality Disorders and Personal Worlds: WORLD BUILDERS at Contemporary American Theater Festival

Whitney and Max have been compelled by their mental disorders to turn their backs on the real world, and on the actual human connections available to them with friends and family, to obsess instead about imaginary worlds of their own making. But for each of them, their world, however artistic and creative, is also of a place of some danger. When medicine begins to cure them, they must compare the value of a sane life with love but without creativity and an insane life with creativity but without love.

The Obergefell Dissents: All Due Respect

I rejoiced in the result of the Supreme Court’s recent Obergefell decision, establishing same-sex marriage as a constitutionally-protected right. Yet I realized as soon as I heard of that result that there was a paradox in the ruling. No one is going to argue with a point the dissents all make: that same-sex marriage is a novelty both in human civilization and in American law. And the Constitution is very old. How, then, the dissenters have asked, is something so new rooted in something so old?