Thursday, March 26, 2009



By Michael Jacobs. Directed by Jack O'Brien. Schoenfeld Theatre. (CLOSED)

Apart from Martin Denton's near-rave and a bemused New Yorker blurb, the knives are out for this troubled romantic comedy, which marks the dubious Broadway return of Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons. Critics duly note the attractiveness of the stars and of a series of reproductions of famous paintings that fly by in director Jack O'Brien's staging, but apart from a handful of scribes who admire the play's finale enough to (almost) forgive the rest, reviews range from politely disappointed to outright hostile. The most persistent refrain is the question: How did Michael Jacobs' play attract artists of such caliber? A-
(Martin Denton) I enjoyed Impressionism more than any other new play on Broadway this season. The script is undoubtedly uneven, but the two main characters Michael Jacobs has created here are people I found myself increasingly drawn to as the story progressed, and as portrayed by expert actors Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen they easily become a couple to root for...Oh, and did I mention that Impressionism has the one essential element that so many plays lack? I'm talking about its absolutely socko ending—a delightful, smart climactic scene, featuring a show-stealing performance by theatre vet Andre de Shields, that pulls together the ideas in the piece and leaves the audience satisfied, gratified, happy, and maybe even a little bit uplifted...Jacobs's writing, especially when it's expository, is clunkier than we'd wish it to be. But it gets the job done...Under Jack O'Brien's understated direction, the play flows briskly, its obvious imperfections notwithstanding. Impressionism puts us in the company of people who love and appreciate art, and their enthusiasms prove infectious.

New Yorker B
As awkward as it is sublime...The dialogue is lovely and jumbled, and, as one senses that the dramatic arc has been sublimated to a near-vanishing point, it becomes easier to sit back and enjoy the play’s brazen sweetness, its openhearted humor, and, most of all, the ravishing projections of Klimts and Renoirs employed by Jack O’Brien, whose directorial eye is nothing if not painterly.

The Hollywood Reporter B-
(Frank Scheck) Michael Jacobs' play can be said to resemble impressionist works as well: The closer you examine it, the less moving it becomes. Still, this gentle comedy/drama about the relationship between a brittle New York art gallery owner and her mild-mannered employee has its charms, which are accentuated by the winning presence of its lead performers, who have been absent from the Broadway stage for far too long...The play is not helped by its diffuseness -- it has been shortened considerably since its early previews -- or by its tonal shifts between sitcom-style comedy and sensitive drama. And the lengthy explications about the famous paintings projected on scrims slow the pacing considerably. But the final scene, when the main characters let down their emotional guard and finally find a way to connect, is quite moving, making one nearly forgive the many missteps along the way. The two stars -- who are aging like fine wine -- make middle-aged love seem very sexy indeed.

Talkin' Broadway B-
(Matthew Murray) Seven scenes mill about with intoxicating aimlessness, all while building to a finale that - not to mince words - is great. It’s the most frustrating part of an already maddening outing in pretentious presumption: You can’t thoroughly hate the journey because the destination proved so much fun when you finally got there...Director Jack O’Brien does everything he can to dispel the static nature of the show’s build-up, but his staging and pacing are unusually (and unnecessarily) stodgy...Allen and Irons, the only two actors in every scene, don’t always help - they render many of their discussions and speeches in ponderous, explorative tones that seem intended to give additional weight to lines that can’t generate it themselves.

CurtainUp C+
(Elyse Sommer) Probably the first time that I've seen a play's between scenes intervals upstage its stars. That's an especially impressive feat, considering that the stars are Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen...What's wrong with this so appealingly cast and handsomely staged play? On the plus side, Michael Jacobs has neatly linked his rather pedestrian plot and his characters' hangups to the four key paintings popping up and down on Scott Pask's set...On the minus side, the metaphoric connection lacks subtlety, substance and credible details. The plot too obviously leads to an ending that will leave Katharine (Allen) and Thomas (Irons) less emotionally blocked once they're able to step back far enough to view not only art but their lives. Their individual stories somehow lack the needed power, originality and detail.

New York C+
(Stephanie Zacharek) The first two-thirds of Michael Jacobs’s Impressionism are so indistinct and unfocused they make Monet’s water lilies look like photo-realism...And then, in the last half-hour of Impressionism’s single act, Katharine and Thomas’s world opens up like one of those Monet lilies...The material’s surprise revelation is more a handy way out of the characters’ incessant talkiness than a satisfying, believable conclusion, but at least it gives us something to hang on to. Allen works hard to make Katharine sympathetic; we can see that she’s wounded, not just self-centered and abrasive. But the performance is too finely calibrated: It clacks along efficiently but never breathes. As Thomas, Irons has the luxury of being relaxed and charming, even though his character, too, harbors painful secrets. Irons’s performance is comfortably rumpled and lived-in, an effect that requires meticulousness and discipline. His gift is that he makes hard work look like a shrug.

Hartford Courant C
(Malcolm Johnson) Despite a solid cast headed by Jeremy Irons, Joan Allen and Marsha Mason, this new American play by Michael Jacobs too often feels like an art history quiz...Though it runs an intermission-less 90 minutes, the eight-scene opus directed by Jack O'Brien seems much longer as it slips back in time and jumps about the globe. Allen excels as a gallery owner, Katharine Keenan, who initially appears to be reluctant to sell her works. Irons brings his usual British coolness to her assistant, photographer Thomas Buckle. Mason beams like a cat with a saucer of cream as Julia Davidson, a rich arts patron.

AM New York C-
(Matt Windman) Something is probably wrong when the scene changes are better than the scenes that follow...Not much conflict occurs in the 90-minute play. But when they and customers stare into the paintings, we relive their memories. Some random debate also occurs as to whether life is a product of realism or impressionism when viewed from a distance. Though occasionally entertaining, the uncooked play fails to make a real impression of the audience...Director Jack O’Brien has done a decent job considering how little he had to work with.

USA Today D
(Elysa Gardner) There is much to please the eye in Impressionism...Sadly, it's hard to imagine what, other than the scenery, compelled the accomplished and appealing actors to choose this particular project for their return...The playwright is clearly intent on telling an adult love story, and the result is a good-natured but woefully contrived account of two artsy, alienated types grasping for connection...Both lead actors seem stumped by their awkwardly, sentimentally drawn roles, as does their estimable director, Jack O'Brien. Irons manages to bring redeeming grace to the performance, speaking his lines with a knowing gentleness and exuding an easy, rumpled charm. Allen's readings, in contrast, seem breathless and strained, as though she is struggling to force more genuine life and nuance into Katharine...Art it ain't.

The New York Times D
(Ben Brantley) Pithy little life lessons keep coming at you in Michael Jacobs’s “Impressionism,” as if off a conveyor belt in a greeting card factory. But the one most immediately relevant to this undernourished play, which stars an ill-used Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen, has to do with looking at life as if it were an Impressionist painting. As Katharine Keenan (Ms. Allen), the owner of an art gallery, puts it, none too academically: “You can’t get it when it’s right in front of you. You have to step back"...I’ve concluded that even if I were to back up all the way to the Hudson River, with half-open eyes fixed on the stage where Mr. Irons and Ms. Allen labor so valiantly, “Impressionism” still wouldn’t look credible...Both stars are asked to generate charm out of thin air, and you feel the strain. Mr. O’Brien, one of the most reliable and versatile of Broadway directors, keeps things moving fluidly if not briskly.

Lighting and Sound America D
(David Barbour) The producers of Impressionism have spared no expense, assembling the best creative team money can buy. They have acquired the services of Jack O'Brien, one of the two or three best directors in the theatre today. They have signed up a group of top designers and a fine supporting cast. And they have arranged for two stars -- Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons -- to make their returns to Broadway after absences of 19 and 25 years, respectively. There was one item that seems to have slipped the collective memory, however -- they forgot to provide their stars with characters to play...Many have wondered what so many eminent people saw in this script, and, indeed, it's rare to see two stars so obviously at sea as Allen and Irons.

Village Voice D
(Michael Feingold) Michael Jacobs's Impressionism notoriously went through a troubled preview period, revealing, when it finally opened, the twin sources of the trouble: Jacobs's script and Jack O'Brien's production. Based on an untenable metaphor—a gallery owner (Joan Allen) who refuses to sell the paintings she hangs because they're linked to her most traumatic memories—the script is clumsy and often stilted, supplying only an occasional heart-tug with some well-worn piece of theatrical hokum. The physical production, featuring projections on top of projections, looks cluttered and awkward; Jeremy Irons, playing all the unhelpful men in Allen's life, conveys even more uncomfortable awkwardness. The couple strikes no sparks; Allen's inner radiance, still palpable after a 19-year absence from Broadway, has to carry the sludgy evening by itself.

Associated Press D-
(Michael Kuchwara) An elaborate if awkward romance--positively brimming with self-importance--and showcased in a setting that includes a parade of gorgeous photographic reproductions of famous paintings.

Theatermania F+
(David Finkle) Hasn't a single redeeming brush stroke...The...issue here is Jacobs' relentlessly juvenile understanding of how ostensibly intelligent urban adults behave...Under Jack O'Brien's direction, Irons and Allen may be doing their best, but their best isn't nearly good enough. Sure, they spar with commitment, but that gets them nowhere when everything they have to say is inauthentic. Of the supporting cast, Marsha Mason gets one genuine laugh as a monied art lover, and Andre De Shields does well as both a Tanzanian griot and a Manhattan baker who helps set Katharine and Thomas to rights with his unpretentious art insights. What can be said in the project's favor is the soigne look that set designer Scott Pask has provided, particularly a show-curtain and several frequently raised and lowered frames on which are projected familiar Impressionist (and several non-Impressionist) works. But for all their beauty, Impressionism doesn't even begin to paint a realistic picture of life.

Variety F+
(David Rooney) Highfalutin schmaltz...[Jacobs'] overly precious new play smacks of sitcom in its articulate characters, who don't so much speak dialogue as deliver lines that overlap but rarely flow organically. However, the writing aims higher than sitcom. It's Hallmark sentiment masquerading as intellectual sophistication, with every one of its characters' stories and memories contorted into a laborious metaphor for love and life. That might be palatable if we had some investment in seeing the central couple hook up. But Katharine and Thomas are a bloodless pair without an ounce of body fat between them; one worries they might snap something should they ever get physical...The overwritten play's most engaging moments come when two minor figures are onstage. Marsha Mason has a semi-satisfying dramatic arc, playing a woman swathed in flashy furs and haggling over the price of the Cassatt aquatint while rankling at becoming a grandmother. And Andre De Shields adds warmth as the baker of the aforementioned muffins.

American Theatre Web F+
(Andy Propst) Muddled and dispiriting...Allen, who looks terrific in a plethora of chic career-woman ensembles from costume designer Catherine Zuber, and Irons deliver proficient performances in their various roles. But these are not the sort of turns that theatergoers might expect from these two award-winning actors. Part of the problem is that the characters are not so much enigmatic as sylphs whose motivations are almost capriciously mercurial.

Bloomberg News F
(John Simon) The play suffers from three major ailments: pretentiousness, trickery and triviality...Between scenes, in director Jack O’Brien’s technologically dazzling production, famous paintings drop down and glitter momentarily before flying away...There are maddeningly lengthy discussions of the relative merits of raspberry muffins and coffeecake (the loser) and of their boxes secured with string versus tape (the loser); also of the history of coffee and its many varieties, some so fine as to be life-changing, others perhaps even finer but beyond the financial reach of the play’s characters.

Bergen Record F
(Robert Feldberg) [Irons] gives the sense of having dropped in on the production very recently. He performs tentatively and without passion, perhaps preoccupied by thoughts of what he plans to do to his agent for getting him into this mess. Allen is a lot more into it, but the result isn't much more illuminating. Katharine remains as vague and slight a character as Thomas. Adding to the general sense of futility are unpersuasive supporting performances. The two best-known featured actors, Marsha Mason and Andre De Shields, push too hard, likely trying to compensate for the weakness of the material...The evening was directed by Jack O'Brien, one of the most skilled and resourceful directors around. I'm sure he tried.

Newsday F
(Linda Winer) Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen have great bones. The play, alas, does not...How is it that director Jack O'Brien - with Tony achievements as diverse as "Hairspray" and "Henry IV" - lavished his entire magnificent creative team from "Coast of Utopia" on this emotional piffle wrapped in fancy dress? "Impressionism" manages what would seem to be impossible. It makes bores out of two unconscionably attractive and intelligent actors and wastes the sporting efforts of Marsha Mason, André de Shields and an underemployed quartet of less-celebrated talents.

Backstage F
(David Sheward) A blobby, predictable mess rather than an intriguing collage...Jacobs is a veteran small-screen writer who has created such tepid fare as Charles in Charge and My Two Dads. His characters here are as dimensionless as his sitcom creations. They speak the kind of supposedly snappy dialogue that has every line ending in a laugh. They have sudden revelations and change their entire worldview in a matter of moments. Jacobs has written them as if they had to reach a major life shift in time for the next commercial. To make matters worse, there is no chemistry between Allen and Irons. They act like cubicle chums killing time till the workday ends rather than the loves of each other's lives. Allen is a shade more invested than Irons...100 intermissionless minutes seem like endless hours.

The Daily News F
(Joe Dziemianowicz) It took 16 producers to present "Impressionism," a new play now open at the Schoenfeld Theatre. They would have been better off investing in low-interest CDs. Even the talented Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen and director Jack O'Brien, who have five Tonys among them, aren't able to breathe charm or art into this pale drama by Michael Jacobs, which is both obscure and simplistic.

Edge NY F
(David Toussaint) In what’s easily the most mismatched pairing since Babs kissed Bush, Katharine and Thomas work at a New York art gallery -- wait, scratch that: Thomas doesn’t work there, we find out; he just shows up with coffee and tells caffeine-related stories and somehow earns a living...Naturally, this being a comedy, they are destined to fall in love, even though Allen and Irons seem about as interested in each other as we are in them. The biggest problem with the production, in a long list of complaints, is that Irons is almost lethargic onstage, coming across as either horribly unprepared, bored with the role, or thinking a high-brow English accent can make up for everything. Since he gives almost nothing to his co-star, Allen does just the opposite, fretting and fussing and tearing-up so much she’s like a blender that keeps switching speeds.

New York Post F-
(Elisabeth Vincentelli) On paper, "Impressionism" is all class. Onstage, it's a stupefying bore...Not to be outdone, O'Brien matches Jacobs cliché for cliché--the director lacks the imagination to make up for the material's literalness. So, of course, there are projections of tasteful pictures. Of course, Katharine introduces flashbacks by freezing and staring into space while the music starts again. Everything telegraphs SIGNIFICANCE. Allen and Irons put up a stoic front but can't help betraying a certain sense of defeat.

Chicago Tribune F-
(Chris Jones) Wretched...So pretentious, so ridiculous and so internally incoherent that the emotional travails of the two central characters bleed perceptibly into the flailings of clearly frustrated actors trapped in a very public set of unfortunate circumstances...Penned by Michael Jacobs, known as a producer, "Impressionism" came to Broadway cold, and cold sums up the piece...Marsha Mason makes a surreal cameo and gets off the only funny line of the night when she declares herself the only woman in America with any money left. It is a risky line, though, because it invites the audience to contemplate the cost of their non-refundable tickets.

Time Out NY and NY 1 F-
(David Cote) We expect movie stars to do hack work for easy money. Who begrudges Joan Allen her silly turn in Death Race or Jeremy Irons’s stopping by the set of Dungeons & Dragons en route to the check-cashing joint? But seeing these talented actors in a vanity project as weak as Impressionism is uniquely embarrassing, a waste of resources nowhere near as fun or forgivable as a summer popcorn flick. A- 12; New Yorker B 10; The Hollywood Reporter B- 9; Talkin' Broadway B- 9; CurtainUp C+ 8; New York C+ 8; Hartford Courant C 7; AM New York C- 6; USA Today D 4; The New York Times D 4; LS&A D 4; VV D 4; Associated Press D- 3; Theatermania F+ 2; Variety F+ 2; American Theatre Web F+ 2; Bloomberg News F 1; Bergen Record F 1; Newsday F 1; Backstage F 1; The Daily News F 1; Edge NY F 1; New York Post F- 0; Chicago Tribune F- 0; TONY F- 0; 100/25=4 (D)

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