By Thomas Bradshaw. Dir. Jim Simpson. The Flea Theatre. (CLOSED)
Practiced provocateur Thomas Bradshaw again divides critics with this seemingly earnest tale of an aging alcoholic businessman and the mess of a family he's left in his wake, but this time the discord is less over shock value than tone. Is this a parody of a dysfunctional family play or the genuine article? Has director Jim Simpson's production ladled the irony on too thick or too thin? Above all, is this a breakthrough for Bradshaw, or more of the same audience-tweaking? Wherever they came down, most critics praised either Gerry Bamman or Drew Hildebrand's lead performance (or both).
(Dan Balcazo) Potent and disturbing...The work wrestles with a number of hot-button topics, and poses moral and ethical questions that would seem to be clear cut, but are surprisingly murky...Bamman is consistently compelling and his non-verbal expressions in the early part of the play do much to lighten the mood of the piece, while his defeated body language in the last couple scenes add to Hampton's sense of loss and confusion...The excellent Hildebrand manages to be both charming and creepy, often at the same time...In some respects, Dawn seems to parody the genre of the dysfunctional family drama...And yet, it's in earnest.
(Peter Schuyler) This may arguably be Bradshaw's best play. There is a level of nuance here that is not present in his earlier work...There is still plenty of shock value...but it is tempered by the reality of the situation...A large part of this is due to Jim Simpson's expert direction. Simpson has found an almost perfect balance between the humor and horror inherent in the script and as such our attention never wavers...It will be a sad statement about the NYC theatergoing public if there is one empty seat in the house for the rest of this show's run.
Time Out NY A-
(Rob Weinert-Kendt) At first glance, this is a disarmingly straightforward recovery drama, as aging alcoholic Hampton (Gerry Bamman) gets a stab at reformation after his drinking literally stops his heart...Under Jim Simpson’s nuanced but unequivocal direction, Bamman—balding, sloe-eyed, looking a bit like Fred Thompson’s unassuming younger brother—is a perfectly unprepossessing lead for Bradshaw’s bitter, inexorable tragedy. You may find this droopy drunk funny, but the laugh is sure to stick in your throat like the toothpick in a martini olive.
That Sounds Cool A-
(Aaron Riccio) Bradshaw, assisted here by Jim Simpson’s exaggeratedly comic and set-less transparency, defies expectations so as to make the audience question their own ingrained assumptions...All the things that happen in Dawn happen in the same world, with our morality becoming quicksilver in the scorching light of Bradshaw’s drama...It is not about judging these characters so much as it is about understanding them, and in that depth, knowing that we are all connected, as much in our sorrows as in our joys.
The New York Times B
(Neil Genzlinger) The play...spends a very long time rolling out what appears to be an ordinary tale of a man finding salvation through Alcoholics Anonymous...From any other playwright this might seem like bracing naturalism. With Mr. Bradshaw’s reputation, though, it’s likely to prompt a reaction of: "All right, we get it. Now move along to the scandalous stuff"...The shock value here isn’t as strong as in some of Mr. Bradshaw’s other works...which makes the piece more effective in many ways.
(Jenny Sandman) This disturbing play would probably be even more powerful were the script not so choppy. Each scene is short and usually requires some sort of set change...Fortunately the cast is strong. Standouts are Gerry Bamman as Hampton and Drew Hildebrand as Steven. Bamman manages to play a sodden drunk without appearing completely pathetic, and Hildebrand plays a charismatic pedophile.
The New Yorker C+
In his most daring and mature work to date, Bradshaw seems to be posing some serious questions about the banalities of the "great American epic family drama" genre. Unfortunately, under the glib direction of Jim Simpson, who seems more interested in the play’s cheap shocks, only a few of the actors (notably Gerry Bamman and Laura Esterman) seem to be in on the joke. The result is a confusing, static treatment of a script that deserves better.
Village Voice C+
(Christopher Grobe) Bradshaw concedes, in an author's note, that there is "irony" in the play, but he asks that it be "underplayed." Instead, Simpson adds cartoonish sound effects and digital supertitles to alienate us from the script—to encourage us, for instance, to snicker at the obsessive rituals of a desperate alcoholic hiding his booze. Gerry Bamman brings an affecting nakedness to the character of this alcoholic, and Jenny Seastone Stern is startlingly earnest as his granddaughter...A more thoroughly ironic production might have made breakthrough moments of earnestness more poignant.
(Sam Thielman) Gleefully ugly...The longer you think about the piece's intentionally stilted dialogue and revolting set pieces, the more you may get the sense you've just sat through a bleak, black comedy, without getting the joke...The heaping helpings of irony ward off empathy at every turn, like giant quote marks around some of the most disgusting encounters in human experience--maybe it's art, but it sure does make you want to take a shower...The bottom line seems to be that Bradshaw is less interested in his characters' relationships to one another than he is in his own relationship to the audience.
Theatermania A 13; Nytheatre.com A 13; Time Out NY A- 12; That Sounds Cool A- 12; The New York Times B 10; CurtainUp B 10; The New Yorker C+ 8; Village Voice C+ 8; Variety D 4; TOTAL: 90 / 9 = 10 (B)