Monday, January 26, 2009



By Virginia Woolf. Directed by Anne Bogart. A Women's Project and SITI Company production at the Julia Miles Theatre. Through Feb. 15.

Critics seemed surprised, more or less pleasantly, to find that Virginia Woolf's only play, conceived as a sort of inside joke, is a light, absurd-ish lark. They were less certain what to make of SITI Company's all-stops-out production, with some finding it overcooked and others appreciating its tireless zaniness. James Schuette's sets and costumes receive nearly universal praise. A note for Variety's Marilyn Stasio: The "tall, lanky" man playing the "regina ex machina" Queen Victoria is quite obviously Tom Nelis, doing his best Terry Jones voice. And to Backstage's Adam Perlman: Nice use of the director's name as a verb.

Backstage A-
(Adam R. Perlman) Departing from the existential experimental lyricism that marked her prose, Woolf composed a drawing-room trifle smacking with the wit of a smarty-pants schoolchild...The gleam of an inside joke makes the material more than a bit trying. That Freshwater lives up to its name, then, largely owes to the ideal interpretation of director Anne Bogart and her ever-versatile SITI Company...What's most impressive about the evening--as with the best of SITI's work--is the way the company functions in sync, not in synchronicity, with members reacting to one another and their environment.

NY Daily News B+
(Joe Dziemianowicz) "Freshwater" isn't deep. It's 75 minutes of plotless antics set at the sunny home of 19th-century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron (Ellen Lauren) and her legal-eagle husband, Charles (Tom Nelis, who double-duties as Queen Victoria). Things are most fun when English actress Ellen Terry (Kelly Maurer) banishes the boredom of posing for painter-husband George Frederick Watts by dreaming up a hunky Lt. John Craig (Gian Murray Gianino). Anne Bogart's staging is colorful, the cast is game, and though it's far from a laugh-out-loud frolic, Woolf-hounds are bound to be tickled.

New Yorker B+
The folderol, a kind of family knees-up, makes fun of artistic ambition and Bloomsbury snobbism, and has never been produced before. The director, Anne Bogart, gives this hokum as rollicking and handsome a production as it is ever likely to get. Be prepared to get up and sing “God Save the Queen,” which is the only ceremony Woolf stands on.

American Theatre Web B+
(Andy Propst) A raucous, absurd dash through the world of some Victorian literary and artistic giants...If one thinks about the sort of familial chaos that runs through Kaufman and Hart's You Can't Take It With You, and then imagines that play being written by French absurdist Eugene Ionesco, the sense and feel of Freshwater can almost be realized...Bogart and her fine company have enjoyed layering their own playfulness onto Woolf's and nothing here should be taken that seriously, simply enjoyed.

Variety B
(Marilyn Stasio) Delivered in the broad style of an English music-hall entertainment, this comic spoof sends up an earlier clique of literary swells, the cool late-Victorian crowd who hung out at photographer Julia Margaret Cameron's house on the Isle of Wight. While helmer Anne Bogart deftly conveys the sophomoric glee behind the original giddy enterprise, the over-bright and over-brash production puts a certain Yankee spin on the Brits' intellectual antics...Because the piece was written for private consumption, it wasn't Woolf's job to make its topical references relevant to a modern aud. Unfortunately, neither Bogart nor dramaturg Megan E. Carter has done much in that department, either. What the helmer has done, though, is direct our focus to Terry, whose intelligence and impatience come through nicely in Kelly Maurer's clean, unaffected perf.

That Sounds Cool B-
(Aaron Riccio) The play has enough doors opening and closing to be a farce, save that for all the entrances and exits, nobody ever really goes anywhere or does anything. So far as ham goes, Bogart's seasoned Woolf's recipe as well as she can and it does stand at a lean 70 minutes, but you'd better not come hungry for much more because--true to today's starving artists--the table is pretty threadbare.

The New York Times C+
(Charles Isherwood) Anne Bogart, the experimental director who leads the SITI Company, might seem an apt choice for this exuberantly nonlinear play...But for all its silly imagery—special guest porpoise included—“Freshwater” on the page delights primarily with its mad, lyric language...Ms. Bogart either does not appreciate the play’s gossamer charm or does not expect the audience to absorb it naturally. She does not have a delicate ear for text, to put it mildly, and the house acting style of the SITI Company favors movement over literate interpretation. The unfortunate result is a light comic lark played as if it were a laugh riot...It’s all a great shame, particularly because the physical production is lovely and appropriate.

Time Out NY C+
(Rob Weinert-Kendt) The theatrical equivalent of cotton candy: all spun-sugar brightness wrapped around thin air. It’s roughly as nourishing, and as headache-inducing...On the page, the satire is brittle and gossamer-slight, if inarguably fascinating as a glimpse of the novelist’s lighter side; onstage, in its U.S. premiere, director Anne Bogart and her tireless, tight-knit ensemble have turned it into an effortful, galumphing goof...While there is no small degree of joy in witnessing this crack ensemble cut loose...the insistently farcical tone, imposed on a text with so few actual jokes, soon becomes assaultive.

Offoffonline C
(Valerie Work) While Freshwater is undeniably both less developed and lighter in tone than many of Woolf’s other works, this interpretation is overly simplified, and the production is the weaker for it...The energy of Freshwater lies primarily in its language, which is lush with imagery and wordplay that are consistently underexplored. If Bogart and her cast had paid as much attention to developing the spoken text as they did to the developing the piece’s physical vocabulary, it would be a much stronger production. As it is, the actors are absorbed in their mission of presenting the play as if it is the lightest of all possible fictions. Frequently, their efforts are irritating.

Theatermania C-
(Sandy MacDonald) Director Anne Bogart and her SITI Company have pushed the puerility up several notches, achieving a Three Stooges-level of crude inanity, rather than trusting the text to yield sufficient humor. Moreover, what was obviously just a playlet has been padded with all sorts of extraneous unfunny business in order to stretch out the evening's "entertainment" to an hour...In the end, a production that honored Woolf's actual comedic accomplishment without burying it in over-the-top clowning would make for a more appropriate--not to mention more enjoyable--homage than this one.

Village Voice C-
(Michael Feingold) Anne Bogart's determinedly self-conscious production stomps on both truth and fun, equating heavy overdoing with humor and shouting with Victorian solemnity. Ellen Lauren and Tom Nelis, as Mrs. Cameron and her spouse, each snatch a few moments of reality in the general din, but it's puzzling that Bogart, with her scrupulous intelligence, should care so little about the reality behind Woolf's jape, the ideas embedded in it, or the skills needed to execute it convincingly onstage. Even at their most mawkish, the artists Woolf pokes fun at here had a sharper sense of Beauty than that.

Backstage A- 12; American Theatre Web B+ 11; NY Daily News B+ 11; New Yorker B+ 11; Variety B 10; That Sounds Cool B- 9; The New York Times C+ 8; TONY C+ 8; Offoffonline C 7; Theatermania C- 6; Village Voice C- 6; TOTAL: 99/11=9 (B-)

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