Saturday, January 24, 2009

Leaves of Glass


By Philip Ridley. Directed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser. Peter J. Sharp Theatre. (CLOSED)

Philip Ridley's London import, about two adult brothers doing some overdue reckoning with their alcoholic father's suicide of decades before, divided critics sharply. In one camp, those who found it nuanced and cumulatively powerful; in another, those who were bored stiff or baffled by the play and by Ludovica Villar-Hauser's deliberate direction. Most gave a nod in the direction of Taboo star Euan Morton.

New Yorker A
Beautifully written, Ibsenesque...All the performances are first rate; Morton heartbreakingly embodies the complex emotional life of a young man who has so much pain to express and no one able to hear him.

Theatermania A-
(Patrick Lee) A dark and often gripping family drama in which two co-dependent brothers share a repressed, lurid secret. Although the play is occasionally slack and decidedly overlong -- running two hours and ten minutes without an intermission -- it's nonetheless a striking piece of work that leaves a suitably nasty aftertaste...The level of denial in this family system is so high that once we grasp its pervasiveness, some of the family scenes gain a vibrancy from registering both as brutal drama and as deadpan black comedy...Morton is especially fine, vividly charting Barry's climb out of the gutter to his eventual sober confrontation with the events of his past. He and Villar-Hauser -- the brother of director Ludovica Villar-Hauser -- register believably as brothers enmeshed in an increasingly unhealthy dynamic.

Total Theatre B+
(Richmond Shepherd) Ahh those crazy Brits-- how they love the 3 D’s in their theater: Depravity, Dysfunction, Death...There is no McDonough blood pouring off the edge of the stage, but there are ripped emotions, anguish, shreds of relationships pouring, bouncing, skittering, banging about...These are characters I wouldn’t want to spend time with performed by actors you’d love to see perform. They are all brilliant—there is not a moment that is not totally believable in their work. Director Ludovica Villar-Hauser has kept this exposition-filled piece totally honest as we see that there is only one strength between the two brothers, and it jumps from one to the other in a juxtaposition of neuroses.

The New York Times B+
(Charles Isherwood) The suicide of a father leaves a stealthy, ultimately devastating imprint on the lives of his two sons in “Leaves of Glass,” a slow-burning but effective drama by the British playwright Philip Ridley (“The Pitchfork Disney”) that features a superb cast including the Tony nominee Euan Morton...Mr. Morton gives a touching performance as the delicate Barry...The director, Ludovica Villar-Hauser (Mr. Villar-Hauser’s sister), elicits detailed, persuasive performances from all four performers and mostly manages to keep the pace taut despite a few patches of slack writing.

DC Theatre Scene B
(Richard Seff) A play-in-progress, fully staged but placed on a minimally designed set, and the sort of work that should be a step in the process for developing material for the main stages of the nation...This play has much to offer. It’s oddly shaped, and that’s one of its problems. It’s in one act, and it runs slightly over two hours. What it needs is shaping, pruning, organizing. For though Mr. Ridley writes eloquently, subtly, dramatically, he’s short on craft and structure. B-
(Loren Noveck) One of the peculiarities about the play is that almost all of it needs to be questioned in the wake of its last couple of scenes, and it's a bit too long and unwieldy to be able to do that effectively...The play meanders for too long getting to that inevitable showdown, raises the stakes of the brothers' relationship enormously during it, and then wraps up almost immediately without any further interaction between them. Each scene is engaging on its own terms, but at the end, I didn't see how all of them were necessary to the eventual outcome.

Variety C+
(Marilyn Stasio) A turgid psychodrama about a family that would rather skin itself alive than talk about its shared guilt and grief. Going along with the game, Ludovica Villar-Hauser protracts the torment by directing at a funereal pace while indulging her cast in hollow oratory. The most interesting thing about the crippling mental illness that afflicts this working-class family -- aside from the fact that they refer to it as "a touch of that fluey bug thing" -- is that it doesn't kick in until a child is born.

Village Voice C
(Garrett Eisler) A brooding dysfunctional family drama, it traces the seesaw relationship between two adult brothers in the wake of their father's mysterious death...As the brothers, Euan Morton and Victor Villar-Hauser make for an engaging odd couple, delivering intense yet nuanced character portraits. But under Ludovica Villar-Hauser's static direction, this already-meandering script plods along for two intermissionless hours. Ridley displays some richly descriptive language—but it never leaps off the page, and instead we get several inert monologues. Like the title's inconsequential pun on Whitman, the play strives for poetry, but to empty effect.

CurtainUp C-
(Elyse Sommer) A psychological puzzle play...Unfortunately, while the eventual explanation of the "leaves" in the title again brings the Wingfields of Glass Menagerie to mind, neither the brothers, their mum (Alexa Kelly) or the pregnant Debbie are likely to make your own memory book of truly unforgettable characters. By the time the shocking revelations hinted at throughout the often stultifyingly drab scenes are finally played out, you're likely to be more relieved that the end is in sight than either shocked or deeply moved.

Time Out NY D+
(Helen Shaw) Ridley’s strength lies in spooky expressionism (The Pitchfork Disney), and in some evocative images from fairy tales, there’s a thrilling touch of menace. But sadly, the author’s drift toward convention coincides with director Ludovica Villar-Hauser’s staggeringly unimaginative production, and so we are left with nothing but the gloomy task of watching a family unpack its dysfunction.

New Yorker A 13; Theatermania A- 12; Total Theatre B+ 11; The New York Times B+ 11; DC Theatre Scene B 10; B- 9; Variety C+ 8; Village Voice C 7; CurtainUp C- 6; Time Out NY D+ 5; TOTAL: 92/10=9.2 (B-)

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