About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Dinner With Puppets

Somehow or other I never posted these two play reviews from several months ago...

Dinner With Friends, which first played in New York in the late 1990s into 2001, is one of the major plays by Daniel Margulies.  For a literary type such as myself, Collected Stories is perhaps the keynote. It's an All About Eve story of an aging writer and a young admirer/protege.  More recently, Time Stands Still, a play about a wartorn journalist recovering from wounds physical and spiritual at home got a lot of attention.

But it's Dinner With Friends that I saw today in a revival at the Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre, and I can't say it impressed.

It's a yuppie marital drama.  A couple, probably in their thirties, are having a friend over for dinner.  She reveals that her husband is leaving her.  A few scenes that night of the aftershocks, one at her house, where he stops by when a flight cancellation keeps him from heading off to his new home.  They have sex.  Another as the couple that received the news discusses.

Act Two has a flashback to when everyone first met, when the one couple hooked her up with him.  Then his-and-her scenes as the two men and two women talk separately a while after the event, and then a final wrap-up scene in the bedroom of the couple that are still together.

And who cares?

These are the kinds of people who fly up to Martha's Vineyard to open their house for the summer, but who have no external lives that can be detected.  They each have kids.  The "happy" couple likes to talk about food, to decide that the shiraz is too astringent or maybe too much vanilla in the polenta cake.  They all spout platitudes about marriage and family life.

"Having kids is something I just have to do."

"I had to survive Tom in order to realize that my second husband is the man I was meant to be with."

"Why can you talk for hours and hours about the problems of everyone else we know, but the moment I want to talk about us you fall silent?"

And that's pretty much it.   The play never delves much deeper than those platitudes.  I "rested my eyes" purposely.  When there was a scene with brighter lighting, a read a little bit of a comic book, turning the pages quietly.  The best I can say is that I've seen plays that are plenty duller than this, but still, I just wasn't interested in a word of it.  I can't quite comprehend that this play was ever a "thing" in the drama world, that it won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

I saw Margulies' Collected Stories at the Lucille Lortel theatre, so many years back I think I was still working at the Scott Meredith agency.

Coincidentally, just a few hours after seeing Dinner With Friends, I found myself back at the Lucille Lortell, for Hand to God, which is certain to contend for my personal Best Play honors for 2014.

Written by Robert Askins and directed by Moritz Von Stuelpnagel, Hand to God is a play with puppets.

It starts with a marionette alone on screen delivering a monologue on theology.  Quite a funny one.  So whatever happens after this, at least there's one thing different.

Thereafter the play proper begins in the basement classroom of a small Texas church, where a recently widowed woman is seeking solace by teaching a puppet class for teens in the church, including her sullen son and a smoldering hot teen who has eyes on his teacher.  So, in fact, does the play's pastor.  We see two different types of seduction, one driven by the passion of youth and the other by the power of authority, within a few minutes.  For some plays, that might be enough.  For this play, the real fun begins when her son becomes possessed by his puppet.  Hard to tell what the puppet wants, exactly, but whatever it is the teacher's son will do what he can to gain satisfaction for his puppet.

This sounds serious, The Exorcist melded with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, or something.  But it's a very witty play that surpasses any expectations for any of the individual genres you might want to tag it with because the underlying emotions of the characters feel true, and are realized on the stage by an excellent cast. The rave reviews are going especially to Steven Boyer as the son and evil puppet Tyrone.  Both are good.  But my eyes were drawn more to Geneva Carr as the mother and Michael Oberholtzer as the young man who desires her. She can pivot in a sentence or two, radiating vulnerability, confusion, strength, responsibility, passion, and he has "it," a lot of charisma and you see in his performance that way the young have of radiating what it is they don't know about life and don't realize they don't know.

I can often write the second act of a play having seen the first, because there are conventions that are followed in writing theatre, as in writing books or movies or pretty much anything else.  To its credit, Hand to God doesn't succumb to predicatability.  Ultimately, the end of the play doesn't go anywhere unexpected, but scene-by-scene it plays out with enough uncertainty that I could enjoy the second act rather than diagramming it,

I would expect a lot of local theatre companies in the US will be producing Hand to God in coming seasons, and you should keep an eye out for it.

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