05 March 2007

The Mitzi Newhouse Redeems Itself After Some Scary Shows

Rocco has an interesting post up about Chris Shin's Dying City, now playing at Lincoln Center, in which he collects friends' email responses to the piece. I can add, from John, "i had no idea that dying city also starred pablo schreiber's arms." And it's true - it's your ticket to the gun show. Thankfully, it's also an engaging production that I'm very glad I saw.

Notice how I'm not saying I loved it, or enjoyed it, had my heart buoyed or broken. None of that. But I spent the 90 minutes of the show pretty much rapt. Can't say the same for the rest of the mostly-old-people-subscribers audience - there was a handful of sleepers at any given time - so I'm glad the show got a rave in today's Times, if it was a little overenthusiastic. I've heard the LCT subscriber's aren't feeling this one, but it's interesting and engaging and, I think, worth seeing.

The show's working a delicate balance of being set against Iraq but not about it. (I wonder if some of the disappointed people are going in looking for an anti-war screed.) The play's truest moments were the ones about its characters, the people, and when they launched into paragraphs of ideas, whether about the war or "Law & Order," they felt like mouthpieces, and we ran into trouble. But as a portrait of three characters (two, a pair of identical twins, played by Pablo Schreiber and his guns) it's interesting and moving. A little too much of a Neil LaBute-style surprise ending, but other than that, I was into the play.

Which is interesting, because I'd read it a few months ago, and, especially knowing Chris Shinn's feelings about play development (in the comments here), I don't think the script has really changed. When I read Dying City, I felt pretty 'meh.' Good writing, but the play didn't do anything for me. Definitely didn't leave a mark. In production, though, it held me much more strongly. Maybe the lesson is that I need to be better at reading plays, but I also think the style of the production really helped. Like Neil LaBute (it's weird that I keep comparing them), this piece is written with a lot of deliberately naturalish speech - interruptions and trailings-off - like this:

What are you--


Oh, nothing, I just, ... I was wondering--

Oh, yeah. I... Well. Yeah.

Stuff like that. (The above bit isn't from Dying City, just from me.) When it's performed naturalistically, it can feel self-conscious and heavy-handed, but in Dying City it was almost stylized, pauses stretched between the cut-off sentences, in a way that made it feel like language and not an imitation of day-to-day speech. So, well done there.

The play's set up with an inherent gimmick - one actor playing a pair of identical twins - but it doesn't feel gimmicky, due in large part to Pablo Schreiber's sensitive and skilled performances. Obvious choices were made - Peter's nervous smile, Craig's downward glance - but it came together to be two characters, not two collections of mannerisms. (I wonder if it's intentional, or it's been noticed, that both of his characters lean with their legs against the couch's arm in what seemed to me a specific, particular way.) Rebecca Brooksher impressed me less - she's a recent Juilliard grad, with the stereotypical Juilliard acty-ness still going on in her voice, a little too stylized, a little too much, especially against Pablo's groundedness, but that might just be a personal taste thing, because Ben Brantley hailed her as the second coming or something.

The whole production had interesting moments of what I guess I have to call alienation - the double-casting; the set trick, which if you haven't read about I won't ruin for you; and brilliant, disassociating use of the on-set tv. I don't know what to make of them - I don't know why they were there - but the effect was interesting, which is enough. That goes for the whole play. I didn't love it, wasn't blown away or emotionally hit very hard, but I was interested the entire time. Which, while not everything, is enough.

[Read what other bloggers have to say about Dying City: Adam Szymkowicz, Rocco of What Blows, Matt Johnston, Lucas Krech, James Comtois, George Hunka at Superfluities, and the fearsome foursome of Show Show Down - Chris, David, Aaron, & Patrick. ]


Rocco said...

I'd like to add that Pablo's ass gave a fine performance too. I sat in the first row behind the stage(?) and he sat on the back of the couch a lot as the stage swung past us. I'd compare his ass's performance to that of a younger Christopher Meloni.

And I think the Neil LaBute references are interesting and appropriate. LaBute has a formula that has gotten him produced constantly, at most off-broadway theatres, with casts of stars, draws audiences, and generates buzz. Its no suprise that younger playwrights will (either consciously or subconsciously) pick up his style. This'll be a growing trend.

Aaron Riccio said...

The difference between Shinn and LaBute seems to be in the type of theater delivered BY the natural dialogue. Neil offers cathartic writing that expresses the fantasy of people saying exactly what they want all the time without sugar-coating things for compassion's sake. The final scene of "Fat Pig" is one of the best things I've seen this millennium. Chris, on the other hand, is deliberately quiet. And I don't like deliberately quiet. I find it to be painfully obvious: I have enough repression in my own life to not need to see it on stage, be it true or not. And while everybody seems to like Pablo in this, the freest I've seen him was as the gleefully nasty "Manuscript." Paul Grellong, the playwright, is far closer to LaBute than Shinn is.