Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Knives and Other Sharp Objects


By Raúl Castillo. Directed by Felix Solis. LAByrinth Theatre at the Public Theatre. (CLOSED)

Most critics admire this sprawling comedy/drama by Raúl Castillo, though all of them note that in limning the complicated cross-border culture clashes between two Latino families in Texas and Mexico, Castillo bites off more than he can dramaturgically chew. But while many critics indulge the play's flaws, given its stated work-in-progress status and its low Public LAB ticket price ($10), and most highlight the performance of Joselyn Reyes as a feisty teen, a few (Talkin' Broadway's Matthew Murray, the Times' Jason Zinoman, That Sounds Cool's Aaron Riccio) are far less forgiving.

Backstage A
(Andy Propst) Castillo's play, in which colloquialism and lyricism blend deftly, culminates in a dinner party involving all of these characters. It's an amusing and touching climax, and it's also a testament to his writing that nine people can credibly wind up in the same room. Director Felix Solis' staging is rock-solid yet sensitive, and although Knives and Other Sharp Objects, perhaps overly ambitious in story and themes, sometimes sprawls, it's a work of great promise from a new theatrical voice.

Theatermania A
(Sandy MacDonald) It takes the whole play to get the full story. Castillo teases it out in short, punchy scenes, the language rich with Latino rhythms. Especially masterful is a split-stage scene in which the haughty Lydia -- her anger pathologically displaced -- lectures delinquent Lucy on the finer points of how to arrange silverware, as Alex must dress down Beatrice in the kitchen as they prepare dinner for their grudging hosts. But even as plenty of intriguing questions remain, the one certainty is that Castillo knows how to create catchy dialogue and build dramatic momentum.

New York Post A-
(Frank Scheck) A work of uncommon richness. Perhaps too much richness. Castillo has loaded his play with so many themes and subplots that at times it has an aimless feel. But in this era of simplistic dramas, better too much than too little...The playwright constantly keeps us guessing while skillfully traversing the line between poignant drama and farcical comedy. The dialogue is sharp and funny, the characterizations ever surprising, and the ensemble--under the skillful direction of Felix Solis--delivers wonderfully engaging performances.

Nytheatre.com A-
(Heather Lee Rogers) Feels like a beautiful road trip—it's all about the journey. The play passes through territories of family, love, and the concept of "home," but it doesn't stop for long anywhere along the way. Playwright Raúl Castillo doesn't seem interested in resolving the conflicts he presents. The plot takes a backseat to character exploration with dialogue riding shotgun. What we get is a wonderful tour through great lines, outrageous humor, and beautifully performed moments. Fittingly the play both begins and ends on the road...At over two hours could stand some trimming. However if, like me, you mostly seek great dialogue and great acting at the theater, you should get a ticket for this ride.

CurtainUp A-
(Elyse sommer) Raúl Castillo has stuffed his Knives and Other Sharp Objects with enough characters for several dramas; in fact, too much so to do full justice to the powerful Mexican-American family saga at its heart...Though director Felix Solis keeps the additional plot strands from turning into too much of a tangle, they do tend to detract from the more powerful and primary family drama.

Bloomberg News B+
(Jeremy Gerard) Produced on a shoestring, the show has minimal scenery but a fine cast, headed by Joselin Reyes and Noemi Del Rio as Alex and Beatrice, respectively, and Michael Ray Escamilla as Manuel. Felix Solis’s exemplary staging reveals Castillo’s keen ear and occasionally subversive wit. (It can’t mask a newcomer’s uncertain grasp of dramatic structure and control of tension.) He focuses on a family from a part of the country that for many non-Latino New Yorkers might as well be Mars. Don’t think of it as educational. Think of it as a brief, exotic trip.

Variety B
(Sam Thielman) There's enough material for a full-length play in any one of the four warring plotlines that make up "Knives and Other Sharp Objects." As it is, Raul Castillo's heartfelt Texas drama is considerably less than the sum of its parts, with too many characters and more locations than a James Bond movie. Still, it's hard to begrudge the play its vast scope when its subject matter -- old-money families in south Texas, life in a border town -- mines such a rich, seldom-explored seam of experience, however briefly...Castillo has clearly learned his storytelling craft from the movies, and his settings, many of which confine the dialogue to chairs and car seats, suck a lot of energy out of the performances. Happily, most of the performers have energy to spare. Reyes and Del Rio, in particular, play their roles with utter conviction and keep at bay much of the incredulity that Castillo's gangster subplot might otherwise inspire.

That Sounds Cool C+
(Aaron Riccio) Perhaps in three acts, all those threads would lead somewhere sharp, but considering how forgettable Castillo's characters are, Knives and Other Sharp Objects could use some cuts instead. When things are restricted just to the family dynamics, director Felix Solis is able to play up the tension, using the long wooden width of Peter Ksander's set as if it were a chessboard--full of posturing, sure, but enough in advance that you don't see it coming. The cast tends to overact through the melodrama, but these focused moments give way to some nice work...However, by avoiding specific consequences and sticking only to broad actions, Castillo barely scratches the surface.

New York Times C-
(Jason Zinoman) This sprawling, 10-character play is the first New York production by Mr. Castillo, who was born in South Texas. It’s an ambitious, multigenerational portrait that concludes with the kind of embarrassing family dinner in which shocking announcements, escalating fights and stalking away are always on the menu...Then there’s the real whopper, which I won’t spoil, when a sweet romantic moment, involving an Iraq war veteran (still wearing fatigues), turns strangely ugly, making you wonder if the whole melodramatic production, staged by Felix Solis, shouldn’t have been played as a sloppy, tasteless romp.

Talkin' Broadway D
(Matthew Murray) Just because one story tells you something about a place or a culture doesn't mean that 10 automatically tell you more. In fact, Raúl Castillo is proving that isn't at all the case with his new play at The Public Theater, Knives and Other Sharp Objects: The more plots, characters, and details he piles on, the less secure his potentially fascinating play becomes...Everything about this production, which has been directed by Felix Solis, is muted to the point of petrification. And its glut of ideas is the 300-pound Gorgon in the room...Castillo...is so determined to tell every possible story about these people that he ends up telling none of them well...Solis has staged all this as clearly as possible on Peter Ksander's vaugely Southwestern almost-ballroom set, but he never gives you the tools to perceive how all the scattered elements combine. Nor do the actors - practically everyone brings overly weighty sitcom-style histrionics to their portrayals rather than vibrant theatrical undestatement.

Backstage A 13; Theatermania A 13; New York Post A- 12; Nytheatre.com A- 12; CurtainUp A- 12; Bloomberg News B+ 11; Variety B 10; That Sounds Cool C+ 8; NYTimes C- 6; Talkin' Broadway D 4; 101/10=10.1 (B)

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