Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Gates of Gold


By Frank McGuinness. Directed by Kent Paul. 59E59. (CLOSED)

Gabriel and Conrad in Gates of Gold are based on lovers Micheal MacLiammoir and Hilton Edwards respectively, the founders of Dublin's Gate Theater--but not sufficiently enough for most critics, who would prefer more history and less fiction. The biggest complaint is that the subplots and minor characters are unnecessary and underdeveloped. The consensus is that Martin Rayner as Gabriel is the highlight of the production.

The New York Times B-
(Jason Zinoman) In a tender, theatrical performance, Mr. Rayner runs away with the play, and most audiences will happily cheer him along, since the peripheral characters (his sister and nephew, for instance) seem like padding to his story. Mr. McGuinness, who also wrote “Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me” and “Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme,” never really develops a strong sense of conflict in this fairly static drama. Still, it’s a compelling slice of life — or death, you might say.

New York Post B-
(Frank Scheck) While the play doesn't provide much information or insight about the real-life figures who inspired it, it does present a touching depiction of a loving couple who managed to live openly in a society that refused to recognize such a union. Adding greatly to its impact are the compelling performances by the leads, especially Rayner, who shows the vulnerability and fear just beneath Gabriel's outrageous surface.

Theatermania C-
(Dan Balcazo) The playwright is also fond of split scenes, but director Kent Paul has not worked out the timing with his cast to make these play convincingly. Instead, the actors often seem overly self-conscious about silently milking a moment while they wait until it's his or her turn to speak. That said, Rayner does a fine job with the larger than life Gabriel, and nicely handles the character's turn to a more vulnerable state. Robinson has a strong presence as the outwardly reserved Conrad, and a nice rapport with Rayner which makes the characters' relationship believable. He has less chemistry with Numrich, and the younger actor seems ill at ease in his role, tending to indicate the character's emotional states instead of inhabiting them. McNenny does what she can with a stereotypically written part. Rounding out the cast is Diane Ciesla, who plays Gabriel's sister Kassie.

New Yorker D+
(Unsigned) With the exception of Kathleen McNenny, playing the nurse, the actors in this otherwise slick production seem unable to find a connection to one another, or meaning in the playwright Frank McGuinness’s words. The play, under the direction of Kent Paul, does not hang together. D+
(David Gordon) Predictable and far too talky, McGuinness's script has a few ho-hum laughs and a slew of go-nowhere plotlines including a relationship between Gabriel's nurse Alma and his nephew, who, years before, had a sexual relationship with Conrad, for which Gabriel hasn't really forgiven either of them. Meanwhile, nephew Ryan has daddy issues that go largely unexplored. There's also Kassie, Gabriel's sister. But she's unremarkable. Kent Paul's staging, appealingly designed by Michael Schweikardt (set), Phil Monat (lighting), and Nanzi Adzima (costumes), is suitable and respectful, never going over the top in a number of cases when it can. The actors have great chemistry and their performances are solid, though the variety of dialects go in and out.

Backstage D-
(David A. Rosenberg) Director Kent Paul not only doesn't weave the strands into a whole; his pacing is funereal. Because their scenes together create whatever tension the evening possesses, Martin Rayner as Gabriel and Kathleen McNenny as Alma come off best, with layered performances. Charles Shaw Robinson as Conrad, Diane Ciesla as Kassie, and Seth Numrich as Ryan hang around the periphery, neither enigmatic nor provocative. At one point Gabriel says, "Dying is like being stuck in a traffic jam in Limerick." Unfortunately, so is "Gates of Gold."

Time Out NY F+
(Helen Shaw) [The play] leaves us feeling like an audience of innocents being smothered, slowly, with a blanket. The lovers are meant to be portraits of Miche√°l MacLiamm√≥ir and Hilton Edwards, founders of Dublin’s Gate Theatre. Perhaps a bored fly on the wall would have been drowsily interested in these theatrical figures exchanging cheap ripostes like, “You started it.” “How?” “You loved me.…” but it’s unlikely. It’s best to ignore entirely the ridiculously drawn peripheral characters (a spitfire nurse who, according to my notes, revealed her painful secret in a speedy quarter of an hour), though it’s difficult when McGuinness insists on irritating split-screen simultaneous scenes. These clumsily ensure that half the stage is usually full of silent, vamping actors, trying not to step all over their colleagues’ lines.

New York Times B- 9; New York Post B- 9; Theatermania C- 6; New Yorker D+ 5; D+ 5; Backstage D- 3; TONY F+ 2; TOTAL: 39/7 = 5.57 (C-)

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