Wednesday, February 18, 2009



By Ariana Reines, based on “The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech” by Avital Ronell. Directed by Ken Rus Schmoll. The Cherry Lane Theater. Through Feb. 28.

Poet and text-collagist Ariana Reines tries her hand at playwriting and while reviewers think the results are a mixed bag they are for the most part taken with the show, a triptych of pieces related to the history, mystery and communicative dilemmas posed by the telephone. Ken Rus Schmoll gets high marks for his directing and the designers (particularly sound designer Matt Hubbs) are singled- or is it signaled?- out for praise. The one major dissent is NYPress' Leonard Jacobs, who found the show arbitrary, overlong and semi-pointless.

The New Yorker A
(Unsigned) The poet Ariana Reines’s feverishly imagined, word-drunk play, inspired by Avital Ronell’s history “The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech,” considers the transmogrifying effects of Alexander Graham Bell’s invention—its displacement of the body, its coaxing toward silence. Staged rivetingly by Ken Rus Schmoll, the piece unfolds in three parts

Theatermania A
(Sandy MacDonald) Ariana Reines' tripartite play Telephone -- inspired by Avital Ronell's 1991 study The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech -- perfectly fulfills the Foundry Theatre's mandate to create "works that merge the exploration of social and political questions with unusual theatrical forms." Such a grandiose goal might sound like an invitation to over-intellectualized bloviation, but in the hands of this gifted playwright, a fleet director such as Ken Rus Schmoll, and a superlative cast, Telephone comes through clearly as a quirky dramatic delight.

Just Shows To Go You B+
(Patrick Lee) Produced with painstaking care. Every sonic and visual detail seems deeply considered and correct, working the play - which is an experience rather than a narrative - immediately into the subconscious.

Village Voice B+
(Tom Sellar) Ken Rus Schmoll's incisive direction—and first-rate cast—creates a powerful sense of urgency for all these would-be communicators. With three broad strokes, Telephone shows us how, regardless of the medium, our urge to speak, to "transmit" ourselves, remains strong—even when no one's really listening to each other.

Variety B+
(Sam Thielman) Reines advances the cause of adventurous theater by asking listeners to pay attention and then rewarding them for doing so, occasionally in gratifyingly silly ways. The play is frequently oblique, but not infuriatingly so. Its sense of the absurd ranges from existential terror to Stan-and-Ollie give and take (kudos to Dellapina and Frazier there, too); it wants to converse, rather than instruct. With Telephone, Reines has vaulted into a distinctly uncrowded category that hosts next-generational thinkers like Will Eno, and it's a pleasure to have her there.

The New York Times B+
(Ben Brantley) Telephone, the inspired and utterly original new tone poem of a play at the Cherry Lane Theater, probes such feelings with the sensitivity and detachment of a heart surgeon. A production of the Foundry Theater, which has quietly been responsible for some of the most artistically ambitious stage work seen in New York in recent years, this short and haunting piece considers the relationship between the telephone and madness and, by extension (as it were), the limits of human communication... darned if the Foundry hasn’t again translated a heady, unruly and uncompromisingly bookish book into vividly theatrical terms. Under the direction of Ken Rus Schmoll, a cast of three and a sharp-eyed design team turn what might have come across as gobbledygook into a stylish and stimulating show.

Gothamist B+
(John Del Signore) Taken as a whole, the production, by the intellectually rigorous Foundry Theater, is a complex, challenging exploration of technology's power, enriched by an enthralling, ambient sound design by Matt Hubbs and Sunder Ganglani. While restoring a sense of mystery to what's become a commonplace object, Telephone also illustrates how confused, banal and incomplete our struggle to be understood has always been. The last exchange we hear in the half-darkness occurs between two loved ones who have found each other again—sort of. A woman can hear her man's voice through the phone, but when she asks him where he is, he just repeats, "I'm here," which is both true and false.

Time Out NY B
(Helen Shaw) First, the bad news. Ariana Reines, despite her status as an award-winning poet and dab hand at textual collage, does not glide effortlessly into the role of playwright. In fact, the more she tries to seem like a playwright, the rockier her intermittently fascinating triptych Telephone can get. Happily, though, after a staticky first chapter—in which Alexander Graham Bell (Gibson Frazier) and his sidekick Watson (Matthew Dellapina) chat their way through limbo—the piece clears up beautifully. And in a feat that downtown theatergoers have come to accept as commonplace, director Ken Rus Schmoll dials in design and dizzyingly adept actors to accelerate the total experience into something quietly captivating

Backstage B-
(Adam R. Perlman) The rule of three -- so potent in comedic arithmetic -- holds less sway over serious material. As made apparent by the Foundry Theatre's Telephone, there's no magical payoff in partitioning a work into thirds. Telephone's triptych form seems aimed at evoking a panoramic view of connection and disconnection; what it more closely resembles, however, is a garage sale. There's only a loose relation between what's presented, and though there are some real gems, you have to sort through a whole lot of junk to find them.

NYPress D
(Leonard Jacobs) Schmoll directs Frazier and Dellapina to amble around the wall but at all times seemingly arbitrarily and without motivation; it’s as if we are to be prevented from developing a concrete sense as to where we are or what may have called these dotty men back to the room where history was made. Indeed, the actors are ordered, together or separately, to vanish behind the wall entirely for brief periods, as if they’re in a constant state of suspended inanimation. A dull, throbbing dramatic entropy descends as Bell and Watson indulge in cant—or was it Kant?

TNY A 13; TM A 13; V B+ 11; VV B+ 11; NYT B+ 11; GOTH B+ 11; TONY B 10; BS B- 9; NYP D 4; TOTAL = 104/10 = 10.4 (B)

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