Thursday, January 22, 2009

Terre Haute


By Edmund White. Directed by George Perrin. Presented by Nabokov and Karl Sydow at 59E59 Theaters. Through Feb. 15.

Novelist Edmund White imagines a series of jailhouse meetings between unlikely real-life pen pals Gore Vidal and Timothy McVeigh, and while critics mostly agree that the play is provocative and compelling despite its inherent static speechiness, each writer seems to voice a different quibble amid the praise: Many laud the performanes of actors Peter Eyre and Nick Westrate, but various critics have problems with one or the other; likewise with the work of director George Perrin and with White's dramaturgy. And more than one critic seems to mind the play's dip into homoeroticism; Variety's Marilyn Stasio calls it "just nuts."

Variety A-
(Marilyn Stasio) Literary heavyweight Edmund White writes so persuasively about such an encounter it might as well have taken place. All except the homoerotic chest-baring--that's nuts...With the clock ticking, there's not a lot of time for dramatic setup and character-building. But helmer George Perrin has it under control...White is a concise and commanding stylist. Not one for wasting words, he finds logical and, at times, lyrical shortcuts to help his characters establish the rapport that takes them right up to execution day.

The New York Times B+
(Charles Isherwood) Mr. White has captured the amusingly contrasted voices of the patrician novelist and the plebeian terrorist cannily and cogently...Both performances are crisply enunciated and fundamentally persuasive. But with the two characters stuck in the prison, in the city that gives the play its title, separated by a barrier represented by a screened box in which Mr. Westrate appears, the play is inevitably static...Eventually the cordial, weirdly flirtatious conversations evolve into something heated with the fire of real drama.

Time Out NY B+
(Adam Feldman) Intelligent, prickling drama...As the expatriate James—who has made his gadfly’s nest in Paris—would know, the French term terre haute literally translates to “high ground.” And it is a virtue of White’s writing that neither man keeps such an advantage for long. In George Perrin’s lean and focused production, Peter Eyre takes the audience into James’s confidence with depths of aplomb...Westrate, for his part, doesn’t oversell Harrison’s rage; there is vulnerability about him, at times, that invites you in. While the play’s overall setup and themes recall those of Capote, White’s journey through morality and desire has explicitly political legs as well.

Backstage B+
(Mark Peikert) Terre Haute is at its best as a showcase for Eyre and Westrate in an unsettling conversation about how the United States government turned a former war hero into a homegrown terrorist. White's most dangerous weapon is transforming Harrison from a supposed madman into a man with compelling reasons for acting the way he did, pulling both James and the audience under his spell. But while the conversations that leap from James' pay-as-you-go sex life to Harrison's political beliefs never lag, the acting does occasionally dip.

CurtainUp B+
(Deirdre Donovan) What may repel many playgoers about Edmund White's Terre Haute is what will attract others to it...The 80-minute intermissionless play is orchestrated like a pas de deux. It's a riveting portrait of the writer and the terrorist, renamed Harrison (the McVeigh character) and James (the Vidal stand-in). White has created a rich tapestry of dialogue that not only details their cross-fire of ideas but lays bare their souls...The acting is outstanding. Peter Eyre is suave as the 71-year-old writer, and Nick Westrate is convincing as the unrepentant Oklahoma bomber...George Perrin helms the top drawer production with a steady hand.

New Yorker B+
White doesn’t stray far from the recycled writer-meets-prisoner scenario—indeed, both characters name-drop Truman Capote—tracing a familiar arc of journalistic calculation, moral ambiguity, and homoeroticism. But he does create an affecting dual portrait of loneliness, marked by a strain of compassion between two men facing different versions of death row.

American Theatre Web B
(Andy Propst) Ultimately disappointing...What begins as an unlikely meeting of minds in White's play soon turns homoerotic as the two men talk in the prison...When they're discussing politics and Harrison's views, White's play crackles. Unfortunately, as the play, directed with sensitivity and an eye for detail by George Perrin, progresses, James' attraction to Harrison and Harrison's curiosity about his interviewer's sexuality increasingly becomes part of their conversations...Both Eyre and Westrate turn in terrific performances.

Theatermania B-
(Dan Balcazo) While some aspects of the 80-minute two-hander are provocative and engaging, other moments feel static or forced...Much of the play is centered on their ideas and philosophies, which sometimes lead to stretches of the play that are intellectually rich but dramatically uninteresting. Conversely, when their opposing opinions lead to shouting matches, the confrontations seem oddly contrived. Part of the blame for this may lie with director George Perrin, who undercuts the effectiveness of the play's major confrontation by positioning Eyre with his back to the audience.

Village Voice C+
(Eric Grode) Despite White's well-crafted symmetries and flashes of insight—particularly regarding the emotionally cloistered James—a whiff of authorial license hangs over Terre Haute. The gap between James's glinting paragraphs of dialogue and Harrison's stammering rage has a stage-managed quality to it, and neither Eyre's baroque melancholy nor Westrate's caged physicality can ward off the play's inherent stasis...To paraphrase the still-reigning giant of this genre, the blood pulsing through Terre Haute is a bit too cold.

Variety A- 12; The New York Times B+ 11; TONY B+ 11; Backstage B+ 11; New Yorker B+ 11; CurtainUp B+ 11; American Theatre Web B 10; Theatermania B- 9; Village Voice C+ 8; TOTAL: 94/9=10.44 (B)

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