Monday, November 24, 2008



Adapted from Joseph Heller's novel and directed by Peter Meineck. Aquila Theatre Company at the Lucille Lortel Theater. (CLOSED)

Critics admire the bravery of the Aquila Theatre Company and director Peter Meineck in attempting to bring Joseph Heller's classic anti-war novel to the stage, but only a few vocal champions feel that the piece has survived the transplant with all of its tone and message intact. Even among the harsher reviews is some solid praise for the hard-working cast, particularly lead actor Joseph Lavelle as Yossarian (who, nearly every critic dutifully reports, has a full-frontal nude scene). A
(Martin Denton) The quick changes add energy and theatricality to a piece that moves effortlessly from scene to scene under Meineck's taut, smart direction. The principal style of the show is farcical, but Meineck shrewdly interrupts the quick comic pace for stylized renderings of the bombing missions and, occasionally, a character's death...We do need to meet Yossarian again, and to hear his whisper of sanity from within the cacophony of lunacy that we are somehow still stuck in.

That Sounds Cool A
(Aaron Riccio) Considering how much has to be cut, how much needs to be contained, the only question is whether or not Aquila is crazy enough to pull it off. Yes, emphatically so. Director Peter Meinecke [sic] might as well be wearing a straightjacket, for he channels the best sort of madness: one which, as paradoxically as anything in Heller’s world, makes perfect sense...Save for a few overlong set changes, carefully choreographed by Desiree Sanchez, the pace of the play matches Heller’s breakneck prose.

Newsday B+
(Linda Winer) Joseph Heller's brilliantly absurd novel--a sort of anti-war "Catcher in the Rye" for the '60s and '70s--really should not be able to be told by six actors and an actress on a tiny stage. But here it mostly is...John Lavelle has a boyishly poignant incredulity--and a few minutes of full-frontal nudity--as Yossarian, the World War II bombardier who claims to be crazy in order to stop flying missions...The storytelling gets a little windy. But the handful of actors are eerily unrecognizable from character to outrageous character. And the staging--scarcely more than parachute silk and a few cots--ingeniously reminds us about how much can be done with pure imagination.

CurtainUp C+
(Paulanne Simmons) Meineck's [sic] adapted text is remarkably true to the spirit of the novel, and his direction surely captures the madcap reality of Heller's world...The problem is not so much the dramatization as the work it is based on. Heller's novel was non-linear and episodic. It was held together by a central idea, Heller's wonderful sense of the ridiculous and the eccentric characters that populate his remarkable world. This works well in the novel but not so well in the play. Despite the enormous energy exhibited by the cast, often in multiple roles, and the fast pace of the action, this production seems to get mired in its own message...Perhaps a novel can be built around a central tragic joke. But not a play.

The New York Times C+
(Wilborn Hampton) While Mr. Meineck’s staging is imaginative and faithful in spirit to Heller’s novel, it ultimately proves an uneven effort...Mr. Meineck has selected salient episodes from the novel and using Heller’s dialogue woven them deftly into a coherent plotline...The weakness in the Aquila production comes from some of Mr. Meineck’s directorial choices. Several performances are pure caricature, and others are so overwrought that the humor is lost in pure volume. As Yossarian, John Lavelle achieves mixed success.

Variety C+
(Marilyn Stasio) Pivotal scenes are more or less faithfully rendered, but the piecemeal production fails to capture the anarchic comic energy of the original--or to come up with a unifying style of its own...As filtered through the comic prism of Yossarian's imagination, these people inflate into grotesque caricatures, making everything they say and do sound sinister or ludicrous...But Meineck finds no stage worthy equivalent of that maniacal laughter...The players perform their parts earnestly (no winking at the audience from this company) and whenever a truly comic moment comes along, they grab it with both hands.

Theatermania C
(David Finkle) Too often an unsatisfactory reduction of the print incarnation...Editing Heller's sprawling narrative isn't a bad idea. Meineck's problem is that in reducing the book to 11 scenes over two acts, he's not only excised many characters and subplots, he's also lost the heft of Heller's hilariously addled prose...More often, what he's retained and how he's directed the scenes is no more than loud and obvious. This puts his hard-working and often-doubling actors under pressure.

Backstage C
(Andy Propst) Adapter-director Peter Meineck's reductive and overly broad stage version of Catch-22 never succeeds in navigating the fine duality of Heller's original or certain satires that have followed...Like Heller's novel, Meineck's script zigzags nonlinearly through events, and sometimes it can all seem nightmarish. This dreamscape feeling is enhanced by Meineck's colorful, almost circuslike lighting design, as well as his use of six actors to play all the other characters. Sadly, though, the staging and some of the performances are so antic that the gravity of Yossarian's plight is never fully felt.

New York Post C-
(Frank Scheck) Unsuccessfully attempts to condense the sprawling narrative, with its huge cast of characters, while preserving its essential themes. But the book's madcap looniness doesn't translate well to the stage. Instead, it lurches from episode to episode without translating the action into compelling theatrical terms...Despite some imaginative touches - Yossarian's flying missions are presented in an effectively minimalist manner - the production is more lumbering than satisfactorily absurd.

Time Out NY C-
(Drew Toal) The small cast does an admirable job of covering as much ground as possible...What the actors display in terms of élan is overcome by a lack of matériel. It’s difficult to get a good sense of the industrial horror of war when the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber that Yossarian (John Lavelle) sees as a flying coffin is depicted as a turret-shaped cage, a small platform and spotlights...Fans of the book will take some satisfaction in seeing Heller’s characters brought to life, but others will be lost in a fog of bore. A 13; That Sounds Cool A 13; Newsday B+ 11; Curtain Up C+ 8; NY Times C+ 8; Variety C+ 8; TheaterMania C 7; Backstage C 7; NY Post C- 7; TONY C- 7; TOTAL: 89/10=8.9 (B-)

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