Monday, November 10, 2008

Mouth to Mouth


By Kevin Elyot. Dir. Mark Brokaw. New Group at the Acorn Theatre. (CLOSED)

Critics were split on the latest Brit import from Kevin Elyot (My Night With Reg). Is this time-spliced tale of the poisoned triangle forme by a middle-aged gay man, his female friend, and her young son Pinteresque, Chekhovian, or just pretentious? Does Mark Brokaw's direction clarify or muddle the play? There was little agreement, except that in the lead role, David Cale gives a memorable and complicated performance.

Curtain Up A
(Elyse Sommer) As My Night With Reg was an examination of the AIDS epidemic, so Mouth to Mouth is an often comic but ultimately tragic story about betrayals of friendship and brotherhood, and the kind of loss that makes previous discontents seem trivial...The New Group production is buoyed by the sensitive direction of Mark Brokaw and a fine acting ensemble...The play comes full circle in just 85 minutes and without a neatly dotted i's and crossed t's ending, but that's life. And life, with its frustrations and passions, its intense but also painful connections, is what this well crafted play is all about.

Theater Mania A-
(Dan Balcazo) Director Mark Brokaw maximizes the tension and suspense through tautly paced scenes that actively use pauses and silences to establish the proper tone...Mouth to Mouth stirs up a number of conflicting feelings, but ends abruptly without resolving its main conflicts...Still, the affecting work lingers with you, just as many of its characters are haunted (perhaps even literally) by what happened to bring them to the state in which they both begin and end the play.

NY Times B+
(Ben Brantley) Nobody really listens to anybody else in Mouth to Mouth, Kevin Elyot's mordant and mournful play about the limits of friendship and family. But the solipsistic Londoners in this deftly acted production from the New Group...clearly can't stop thinking about one another... He may lack the old master's subtlety and fluidity...But Mr. Elyot...shares Chekhov's sense of life as a tragic comedy and conveys it through beautifully written, often funny encounters that throb with isolation and longing...The performances are all fine, and in the case of the three pivotal portrayals, something more.

(Michael Kuchwara) A melancholy little memory play, sad yet compulsively watchable in its disturbing tale of friendship and family pulled apart by desire and selfishness. It requires acting and direction of extraordinary precision, something that hasn't quite happened yet in the New Group's still tentative production...David a gentle, deceptively unassuming performance.

Back Stage B+
(Robert Windeler) While there is humor in the mix, most of the subject matter is deadly earnest and resonant to many if not most in the audience. This production offers every bit of what the play deserves. Seven excellent actors...portray characters who are as believable as they are a tad off-kilter...Mark Brokaw's direction is as sleek and seamless as Riccardo Hernandez's gleaming set.

Variety B
(Marilyn Stasio) Scribe Kevin Elyot is no Pinter, but that hasn't stopped Mark Brokaw from over- (or possibly under-) directing this irony-laden Brit if every stilted moment were momentous, every arch line of dialogue profound. Shorn of its pretensions, Mouth to Mouth is a wry, mournful study of how easily a friendship can be destroyed...The New Group ensemble sparkles aplenty, employing a snappy comedic delivery to keep the raw emotions at bay.

Time Out NY
(Adam Feldman) The architecture of Mouth to Mouth is compelling, and Cale gives Frank a touching mix of gentleness and desperation; Christopher Abbott is convincingly vague as the teenage object of his lust, who happens to be Laura’s son. But the play’s intimate scale is undermined by supernatural elements that Elyot distractingly grafts onto it, and the less successful aspects of Mark Brokaw’s production for the New Group add to the unreality...The play could use a stronger breath of life.

New Yorker C-
(John Lahr) A Proustian exercise in guilt recollected in tranquillity...The play unfolds backward, in a series of strategic anecdotal scenes that tell a tale of lust, betrayal, and loss. The tantalizing slickness of the play's construction is matched by a terse, elliptical narrative style...Mouth to Mouth feels arch and stillborn; the author doesn't surprise himself or us.

Talkin' Broadway D
(Matthew Murray) Elyot doesn't make it easy to relate to these people, either with the depth and breadth of their suffering or with a convoluted structure that careens around in time with a clear direction or purpose (other than elongating unsurprising plot twists) seldom evident. At least there's an underlying honestness about them, which helps...Unfortunately, you get no sense of inherent promise from any of them in Mark Brokaw's harried and dreary production. Brokaw treats them all as drifting, half-transparent symbols of our inability to come to terms with life, rather than as people...The actors themselves provide little that's special.

Curtain Up A 13; Theater Mania A- 12; NY Times B+ 11; AP B+ 11; Back Stage B+ 11; Variety B 10; Time Out NY C+ 8; New Yorker C- 6; Talkin' Broadway D 4; TOTAL: 86 / 9 = 9.56 (B)

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