Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Very Sad Story of Ethel & Julius...


Written and directed by written and directed by Vit Horejs. Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theater at Theater for the New City. (CLOSED)

Apart from the NY Times' Anita Gates, who turns in a rave review, critics thus far have been left ice-cold by this puppet-and-actor telling of the infamous Rosenberg espionage trial, chiefly because the show seems to skirt the most interesting and relevant details of this dark Cold War story. For the record, there apparently isn't much in the way of actual marionettes in the show, despite the company's name; also for the record, the full title is The Very Sad Story of Ethel & Julius, Lovers and Spyes, and about Their Untymelie End While Sitting in a Small Room at the Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York.

The New York Times A
(Anita Gates) Combining puppetry with the story of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the American couple executed for passing atomic bomb secrets to the Soviets, is quite a balancing act. But Vit Horejs has written and directed a first-rate, thoroughly original production and made it look effortless...The cast gives charged, cohesive performances, and the staging is expert, with Tom Lee’s aptly shabby found-objects set; Frederico Restrepo’s inventive lighting; Theresa Linnihan’s wry, Weill-influenced songs (hey, why shouldn’t a rabbi do the 23rd Psalm as a blues number?); and Michelle Beshaw’s Depression-chic costumes. C
(David Johnston) Incorporates Brechtian performance styles, an accordion, percussion, the occasional tap step, and costumes which look like they could have been pinched from the movie The Cradle Will Rock...Unfortunately, Sad Story is both well-meaning and plodding, and it's undone by weak storytelling and acting...For theatre trafficking in such big issues, the performance is curiously lacking in intensity, and attempts at graveyard wit fall flat...The heroes of this performance are the musicians, particularly accordionist Carmen Staaf.

Offoffonline C-
(William Coyle) Without intimate involvement in the espionage story of the Rosenbergs themselves, whether factual or whimsical, this generic play cannot live up to its ambitious title...The Rosenbergs here come across as ineffectual and almost senseless individuals who are simply acted upon. It's an intriguing idea--the Rosenbergs as figurative puppets--but it's somewhat disingenuous, too...Another problem with this play, peppered generously with sometimes clever musical numbers, is that no one in the cast sings well...One bright spot in the production is Michelle Beshaw’s costuming.

Backstage D+
(David A. Rosenberg) This Brechtian collage on a still-controversial American espionage trial so lacks insight and pulse that it soon devolves into a random, muddled mishmash...Some of the staging is clever: the use of frames and screens, the songs, the sound effects, a seesaw to symbolize changing relationships and tactics. But the evening, for all its gimmicks, lacks substance, and this 90-minute intermissionless work is neither emotional nor enlightening.

NY Times A 13; NY Theatre C 7; Offoffonline C- 6; Backstage D+ 5; TOTAL: 31/4=7.75 (C+)

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