Theater Review

Deborah Hay: "O,O" - St. Mark's Church, NYC

Deborah HayIn the pre-show seating shuffle of audience members scrambling for seats in the 360-configuration of a sold-out St. Mark's Church, each of the five performers in Deborah Hay's "O,O" entered one by one and stood, shifting slightly, eyeing the audience and raising their hands slowly in tentative reaches toward each other, the audience, the floor, the ceiling. Three were in black, two in white, and all wearing heavy shoes, an unusual choice for dance. Once all five were gathered on stage, continuing this slow, focused pace, the audience gradually grew silent, despite the fact that the box office was still open and ushers were still seating patrons. The room changed and everyone acknowledged it, as if the performance space asserted its architectural truth as a church.

Abacus Black Strikes Now!: The Rampant Justice of Abacus Black - P.S. 122

Abacus BlackDespite the incredibly long title, The National Theater of the United States' Abacus Black Strikes Now!: The Rampant Justice of Abacus Black, started off great. In extremely dim light, a man in ruffled, romantic Goth-antique clothing burst on stage lit only by a small, bright light which he carried and shone up under his chin hinting of a campfire ghost.

As he spoke, the audience was transported back to childhood experiences of theater. It was thrilling, riveting, and magical.

The Northern Quarter of Nowhere

vanwarmerdamAlex van Warmerdam: The Northern Quarter
Vortex Theater Company

The American premiere of the Dutch play The Northern Quarter by Alex van Warmerdam has its moments. Director Erwin Maas describes this production as a “funny, yet intensely painful” journey, “magical and absurd, yet frighteningly real.” Unfortunately, for the most part, it seems neither frightening nor real.

The play focuses on Faas, a young man who lives at home with his parents, apparently in the “northern quarter” of some city or bordering area (since the city itself is a fearful place his parents refuse to let him visit). Faas spends the whole 90 minutes of stage time trying to escape his stifling parents in order to actually

Richard Maxwell: The End of Reality - New York City Players, The Kitchen, NYC

Richard MaxwellIn the program notes for Richard Maxwell's The End of Reality at the Kitchen, Maxwell states that he "found the last line of this play on a park bench in Hampstead, London," and only later discovered the line to be from Khalil Gibran's The Prophet. The line, "the earth shall take my limbs and then I shall truly dance," seems a fitting expression of Maxwell's signature style. His sparse staging and stiff, simple physicality, and vocal delivery clear the theatrical space of clutter and highlight Maxwell's themes with precision and surprising emotional punch.

Set in the security station of an office building, the play unfolds in the glow of an enormous surveillance screen, which constantly flips between various images of different areas of the building.

From Gloom to Gleam: Pinter’s The Room and Celebration

PinterIt is a cold, wintry twilight when Harold Pinter’s The Room opens; soon it will be dark. That is the typical mood and setting of early Pinter. The Room was his very first play, produced originally in 1957. On the same bill at the Atlantic Theatre Company is Celebration, his latest play to be produced (2000), with a totally different setting and ambiance: a bright, chic London restaurant with well-dressed revelers. Does this conjunction of early and late work tell us something meaningful about Pinter’s vision and the journey he has taken in his brilliant fifty-year theatre career?

Back in the late fifties, when he was spellbinding experimental theatregoers, the word most commonly used to describe his work was “menace.” Pinter had a way of making the stage vibrate with mystery and menace in such early works as The Room, The Dumb Waiter, The Birthday Party, and The Caretaker.

Albee's Seascape: A Lovely Escape from Intelligent Design

albeeEdward Albee is probably the most famous living playwright in the United States today. I say "probably" because Sam Shepard and David Mamet may actually come more quickly to mind, or even Neil Simon (but I don't count him for reasons I won't bother to explain). What makes Albee interesting to contemplate is just how high he was in everyone's esteem for the first decade of his career, and then how low for a couple of decades, and how more recently, post-Three Tall Women (1991), he has returned as a kind of off-stage gray eminence, highly respected but hardly loved.

Brilliant Sarah Kane Work Stalls in Static Production

PsychosisSometimes artistic women commit suicide. They may flirt with the idea for years. Sylvia Plath did it at the age of thirty. Sarah Kane did it at twenty-eight. It changes the way we look at their work. Born in Essex, England in 1971, and raised by evangelical Christian parents, Kane later characterized her religious upbringing as “the full spirit-filled, born-again lunacy.”

The French production of Kane’s final play, 4.48 Psychose , at the BAM Next Wave Festival in Brooklyn (Oct. 19-30), focuses on the isolation of the protagonist, her fierce commitment to knowing what it feels like to be deeply depressed, and her refusal—

Agamemnon: St. Veronica's Church, NYC

AgamemnonOur current political climate lends itself to Greek drama. At the start of the war on Iraq, New York theaters held spirited readings of Lysistrata, which seemed to echo the hope that war could be halted by civilian resistance. But as the war dragged on, the national mood seemed to shift from spunky comedy to bloody tragedy. Now, after "Mission Accomplished" and many, many under-reported deaths, we need an Agamemnon.

Brecht: The Caucasian Chalk Circle

BrechtLast Friday night, beset by boredom, I decided to attend a production of Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle in which most of the characters were played by life-sized puppets. I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t get it. What I got instead was a spectacularly odd experience: puppets singing, dancing, and spouting Marxist dogma. The cumulative effect was hallucinatory and disturbing. It was like watching an unaired episode of Sesame Street in which Elmo is brutally executed by guerilla soldiers.

Brecht’s plays balance a studied anti-realism with a cruel insight into human nature and social injustice. In The Caucasian Chalk Circle, a peasant girl named Grusha decides to care for an abandoned baby whose noble family has been targeted for execution by a revolutionary army. She’s chased through the Caucasus