Monday, May 25, 2009

The Dishwashers


By Morris Panych. Directed by Byam Stevens. 59E59. (CLOSED)

The reviewers are quite amused by Morris Panych's dark absurdist take on class struggle, set in the kitchen of a fancy restaurant for the well-to-do. The debate seems to be this: Is Panych's script a wry, Beckett-influenced gem that's occasionally brought down by mis-direction on the part of Byam Stevens? Or is it rather a little over-long at two hours but rescued by great performances and clever direction? Either way, the play earns mostly B-grades, with the outliers being one A (from John Simon) and one C- (from Backstage's Karl Levett).

Bloomberg News A
(John Simon) A brilliant extended metaphor for the way our society works. The dialogue is by turns quizzical, snide, sarcastic, defiant and servilely accommodating. It is also simultaneously amusing and mildly frightening when dealing with internecine rivalry or abject fear of the management and clientele unseen above.... one of this season’s happiest theatergoing experiences.

Flavorpill B+
(Alyssa Alpine) Morris Panych's dark comedy The Dishwashers is reminiscent of a Samuel Beckett work, complete with existential philosophizing and dialogue that prompts wince-inducing laughter. Part of Americas off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters, a two-month series bringing successful regional plays to NYC, the Chester Theatre Company's production of The Dishwashers is a complex portrait of three workers toiling in the depths of a high-end restaurant.

Village Voice B+
(James Hannahan) A quirky, insightful delight.

Theatermania B+
(Patrick Lee) Morris Panych's The Dishwashers, currently at 59E59 Theatre as part of the Americas Off Broadway festival, is an existential workplace comedy that is both wryly observed and darkly funny. Better still, the first-rate production, directed by Byam Stevens, sets the proper tone for the play's poker-faced absurdities... A work like this relies heavily on its actors, and Donoghue and Stratton complement each other very well, the former reading believably as working class while the latter convinces as white collar.

Variety B+
(Marilyn Stasio) There's no question that the timely crash of the global economy has made The Dishwashers more pertinent. But this painfully enjoyable show also alerts us to the fact that we may be ready for a renaissance of absurdist comedy, a form that was made for these times. B(Jo Ann Rosen) There is very little action in The Dishwashers. However, the concepts and the humor keep it going. Not all of the humor is laugh-out-loud-funny, but it does prevent the play from becoming preachy or maudlin. For me, the dramatic elements hit home long after the lights went down at the end of Act II. I like a thought-provoking play, and this one has some very strong elements.

Time Out NY B
(Diane Snyder) Two hours is more than enough time for Panych to unveil his idiosyncratic subjects and slender plot. Fortunately, director Byam Stevens draws out sly wit and panache. The four-person cast (including Michael J. Fulvio) extracts plenty of humor without coddling their characters or rendering them less than genuine. As a result, it’s clear to us that if they hadn’t drawn the short straw, they might have been lucky enough to end up like Beckett’s tramps—who at least are free to roam

The New York Times B-
(Jason Zinoman) The Dishwashers, by Morris Panych, is receiving a wry if somewhat shallow production at 59E59 Theaters...In a fanciful style that occasionally veers into the heavy-handed (crème brûlée is more of a metaphor than a dessert here), Mr. Panych has written a clever play that, dramatizing the clash of ideas in the most dreary of places, speaks to the economic anxieties of our time and even provides a ray of hope. While it sends up pieties about the work ethic, it also shows a real affection for the virtue of old-fashioned labor, which doesn’t always come through in the slick, far too clean production directed by Byam Stevens. The actors mime washing their dishes, and when a plate breaks, the effect is achieved through a blackout and a sound effect. The performances are solid if also a little artificial, relying on deadpan poses, and, in the case of Mr. Stratton, an overly presentational style. This is a play about the drudgery and dignity of everyday work. It needs some sweat.

The New Yorker B-
(Unsigned) Morris Panych’s small comedy (from the Chester Theatre Company), the first production of the “Americas Off Broadway” festival, could be subtitled “Zen and the Art of Manual Labor”; over the course of two acts, the new guy, schooled by Dressler, a kitchen-sink philosopher, begins to see the wisdom in wanting nothing. There’s depth in Panych’s spare, Beckett-esque dialogue, but the fun of the play is compromised by stagey acting and the director Byam Stevens’s choice to have the actors look out over the heads of the audience while they speak to each other.

Backstage C-
(Karl Levett) The Dishwashers is a flimsy comedy that has trouble making up its mind what kind of a play it wants to be. Set in the basement scullery of an upscale restaurant, it suggests a human drama à la Arnold Wesker showing the plight of the working man. But on that score the play lacks the necessary naturalism and its working-class characters are not convincingly detailed. Nor does it succeed as an absurdist comic fable, awash in philosophic observations, of losers in a cruel world of winners... Under Byam Stevens' direction, the three principal performers have to work hard to bring life to these unconvincing characters. Donoghue, when given a good line, can knock it out of the park. Shuman is able to add some pathos to the kitchen-sink scenario, and Stratton exudes youthful energy in Emmett's struggle to survive.

BB A 13; FP B+ 11; VV B+ 11; TM B+ 11; V B+ 11; TONY B 10; NYTR B 10; NYT B- 9; TNY B- 9; BS C- 6; TOTAL: 101/10= 10.1 (B)

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