Thursday, October 2, 2008

Fault Lines


By Stephen Belber. Directed by David Schwimmer. Cherry Lane Theatre. (CLOSED)

The newest gabfest from Stephen Belber (Tape) got extra attention for being the Off-Broadway directing debut of David Schwimmer. Critics praised the cast and by and large saw through the play's twisty machinations, with some enjoying the manipulation but most finding it tiresome.

Talkin' Broadway A
(Barbara & Scott Siegel) Fault Lines, a sly and extremely satisfying new not only cleverly constructed, it's also very funny. Punctuated with laughs that come out of character, rather than out of joke lines, this is a show that deserves to run and run—provided critics and audience members don't give too much away and ruin it for future playgoers.

Theatermania A-
(Sandy McDonald) For a while, one wonders if the playwright is simply planning a threesome variation on Edward Albee's The Zoo Story; but happily for the audience, he's concocted something far more intricate—a play that will have spectators literally gasping as surprise succeeds surprise...Schwimmer deserves credit for keeping the pace naturalistic—imbued with subtle tonal shifts—yet crackling.

Curtain Up A-
(Simon Saltzman) What could be more fun than being totally unprepared for a shocking revelation, or simply being out-smarted by a playwright who can cause that kind of response?...Under the taut direction of David Schwimmer, Belber's riveting play defies expectations at every turn...Schimmer has picked four exceptional actors as well as picked a darn good play.

(Michael Kuchwara) Belber has a knack for making male banter sound real even while his plot veers into improbability while attempting to keep the audience off-balance...The actors, under David Schwimmer's easygoing, unobtrusive direction, know how to get laughs and Belber supplies them with surprising regularity.

Daily News B
(Joe Dziemianowicz) While briskly entertaining and well-acted, the 80-minute work doesn't push any boundaries—unless you count frank talk about ejaculation. What the play does is tickle a timeworn device: the mysterious stranger who changes everything.

New York Times B-
(Jason Zinoman) Stephen Belber's enjoyable if flawed Fault Lines is part of a genre—call it Dude Plays—about vaguely homoerotic male friendship in which the towel-slapping banter usually hides much deeper divides...Mr. Belber sets up his themes skillfully, and his punchy, jocular dialogue displays a sensitive ear for language. Relying on a constant series of probing questions, the play, however, can get monotonous, almost like a courtroom drama.

Variety B-
(Sam Thielman) Belber seems less interested in his characters than in what hoops they can jump through, so there's a basic lack of depth to these people that only a very good cast and a strong directorial hand can amend. Thankfully, this production has both. Director David Schwimmer gets a lot of warmth from [Josh] Lucas and [Dominic] Fumusa, and even [Noah] Emmerich seems well-meaning in an ursine kind of way.

NY Post C+
(Frank Scheck) Fault Lines, like many an alcohol-fueled evening, is a lot of fun before it turns increasingly uncomfortable. The discomfort stems, in part, from the playwright's propensity for gimmicky plot twists. That's too bad, because Fault Lines is good at showing how the bonds of friendship can become tattered over time.

amNew York C
(Matt Windman) The first half of Stephen Belber's 80-minute play feels pretty pointless...If not much else, Schwimmer has encouraged his actors to intense their energy levels and comic timing at all costs [Interesting new verb there, Matt.-ED]...So while the play admittedly does pick up steam and become an amusing, if predictable, exercise in surprise and moral debate, it offers nothing that you haven't seen before.

Time Out NY C
(Helen Shaw) Belber's brute adherence to a predictable structure is total Playwriting 101. He works out the "How do I keep the characters onstage?" question with schoolboy diligence, and by the time he's got Emmerich saying, "I came in thinking one thing, but now..." you wonder if he just hadn't gotten to the chapter on subtext. Luckily, the performances do give the characters startling life.

Newsday C-
(Linda Winer) Schwimmer...stages the four-character serious comedy with a good, taut sense of ordinary-guy idiosyncrasy...Unfortunately, most of Stephen Belber's 85-minute play feels too much like early David Mamet. If that weren't dispiriting enough, the play ends with a surprise twist straight out of...Neil LaBute.

Village Voice C-
(Alexis Soloski) Fault Lines...would be easier to dismiss were Belber untalented. He writes plenty of amusing lines and betrays some insight into the intimacies, rivalries, and elisions that compose male friendship...He eventually forsakes character and relationships for a series of increasingly inane plot twists.

Talkin' Broadway A 13; Theatermania A- 12; Curtain Up A- 12; AP B+ 11; Daily News B 10; New York Times B- 9; Variety B- 9; NY Post C+ 8; amNew York C 7; Time Out NY C 7; Newsday C- 6; Village Voice C- 6; TOTAL: 110 / 12 = 9.1 (B-)

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