By Zakiyyah Alexander. Directed by Jackson Gay. At 2nd Stage Uptown. (CLOSED)
Not a lot to report here, frankly. Other than Patrick Lee, reviewers just don't like Zakiyyah Alexander's play about two estranged sisters, a father's belongings and growing up while in your mid-30s. The range of quibbles is fairly broad, from the more poetic dream sequences in the play to the underdeveloped male characters to feelings of cliche seeping into the dialogue. More general praise greets the actors, particularly Tracie Thoms as Nina and Natalie Venetia Belcon as Vida. A late-breaking review from Elizabeth Vincentelli at the New York Post dragged the play's grade down from C- to D+.
(Patrick Lee) Although modest, the play is well-observed and warmed considerably by comic touches, with nuanced, believable characters brought to life both by sensitive writing and well-considered performances... Belcon conveys the anger beneath Vida's sometimes icy surface and makes thoroughly convincing the character's gradual progression. She also makes credible the idea that Vida would be occasionally seized by anxiety attacks, although there is room for Belcon to bring a greater sense of panic to those moments. Thoms makes Lena seem to unravel emotionally before our eyes, playing a vulnerability that is increasingly less restrained with each scene.
(Leonard Jacobs) The play has serious faults, from an over-reliance on episodic structuring to odd fantasy interludes to muddled staging decisions by director Jackson Gay. Yet the production also has Natalie Venetia Belcon's sharp, wise, and moving performance as the sister who didn't need to pen a scalding memoir to emerge whole, if not wholly unscathed, from a disappointing youth. Her acting delivers the audience from the danger of ambivalence.
(Marilyn Stasio) Zakiyyah Alexander may have the gift of gab, but she hasn't found her voice in 10 Things to Do Before I Die. Play gives beaucoup talk time to two estranged sisters who make up after they go through 10 boxes of family memorabilia left by their recently deceased father. But with a shapeless plot and no action to drive the arbitrary events, the piece comes across as more of a character study -- of people with little to say but an overwhelming need to make themselves heard.
(Charles Isherwood) Harmless but pedestrian...Ms. Alexander makes a couple of regrettable mistakes. Near the top of my list of 10 things developing playwrights should avoid would be dream sequences; these virtually never work onstage. Here there are several. Also to be discouraged is the use of quotations from great plays. The best writing in 10 Things to Do Before I Die comes from Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare — a tough duo to top, admittedly.
NY Daily News D
(Joe Dziemianowicz) Ambitious but unconvincing...Uneven lead performances under Jackson Gay's slack direction don't help. Belcon is a striking figure on stage, even with a humongous bun that makes it look like a dirigible is hovering behind her head.
Time Out New York D
(Helen Shaw) The list in the title of Zakkiyah Alexander’s play should have been the tip-off. Her ungainly 10 Things to Do Before I Die feels like a playwright ticking off boxes, an exercise in filling time. The drama gets through its modest catalog of tasks—introduce characters, toss in relationship crises, cue breakdowns—without poetry, insight or (and this is what makes it tiresome) dispatch. Yet 10 Things is not entirely disposable. Alexander can, after hours of exhausting setup, write delicately comic scenes. And, to be ruthlessly utilitarian, she provides an opportunity for theater makers to ply their craft: Wilson Chin, for instance, should be congratulated for his handsome, understated set. Hooray?
Talkin Broadway D-
(Matthew Murray) For a play that warns about the dangers of spinning your wheels and wasting your time, 10 Things to Do Before I Die takes nearly forever to live up to its title. It’s not until well into the second act of Zakiyyah Alexander’s labored, falsely poetic play, which Second Stage is presenting at the McGinn-Cazale Theatre as part of its Second Stage Theatre Uptown series, that you really get a concrete idea of what it’s about. By that time, Alexander, director Jackson Gay, and a group of poorly matched actors have made it practically impossible to care.
(Elizabeth Vincentelli) Most of the show is taken up with contrived sisterly dichotomies and tensions that feel as if they came straight out of a Playwrightron 2.0 software, with no interference to humanize things along the way. Predictable plot points and Important Life Lessons turn the second act into a domestic dramedy that would bore even Oprah. Growing up is hard to do. It's even harder to watch. Incongruous acting compounds these problems,
TM B 10; BS C 7; V C- 6; NYT D 4; TONY D 4; NYDN D 4; TB D- 3; NYP F+ 2; TOTAL = 40/8= 5 (D+)