Friday, July 17, 2009



By Mark Palmieri, Directed by George Demas. At the Theatre at St. Clemens. (CLOSED)

Mark Palmieri's play about a fractured, dysfunctional suburban family attempting a rapproachement in anticipation of an upcoming wedding gets largely negative marks (with the noted exception of the New York Times) Everyone agrees the premise is somewhat shopworn-- do we really need another play about middle class suburban dysfunction? But critics are split on the quality of the execution. Most heap praise on the actors and the sensitive direction of George Demas, even while finding fault with the script. This is also one of the few batches of reviews in which the set-- here designed by Michele Spadaro and mimicing to minute detail the inside of a Levittown prefab home-- gets discussed as much as the acting. David Barbour of Lighting and Sound America discusses the sets' clever ways of providing character detail, while CurtainUp's Deborah Blumenthal finds it impressive but all wrong for the play

NYTimes A-
(Neil Genzlinger) As basic and old-fashioned as the houses in the planned communities of the title, but the top-notch cast sure does sell it. You may feel as if you’ve seen roughly this same domestic drama a zillion times, but you won’t stop watching for a second.... the director, George Demas, has everyone getting the most out of the dynamics. Mr. Dobell walks the edge of crazy expertly, and Ms. Bennett nails her character while avoiding the Long Island clichĂ©s. Tying it all together in a delicious performance is Tyler Pierce as a loud and protective cousin.

NYPost B
(Frank Scheck) Tackling more serious themes than he can comfortably handle, the playwright succumbs to melodrama. It's too bad, because he clearly has a firm grasp of his characters and their milieu, and Levittown, despite its excesses, is consistently engrossing. Kudos to director George Demas, who's guided his ensemble into fully lived-in, authentic performances, and set designer Michele Spadaro, who's given us a two-story home that seems ready for occupancy.

TheatreMania C+
(David Finkle) While this drama suffers severely from structural problems, it ultimately remains somewhat powerful in examining how dysfunctional families are far from "just the same," no matter how similar their physical surroundings...Palmieri is aided in his quest by an estimable acting ensemble -- not one of whom, as directed by George Demas, lets a nuance slip by -- and by set designer Michele Spadaro's one-set vision of two identical Levittown abodes in their late 1940s-early 1950s semi-splendor. But in ultimately trying to make the whole family dynamic his subject -- an aim solved much more effectively in plays such as Tracy Letts' August: Osage County -- Palmieri hasn't quite built as strong a house as he intended.

Time Out New York C-
(Raven Snook) Despite the simplistic movie-of-the-week setup, Levittown—which was staged by the Axis Company three years ago—explores complicated themes: the legacy of brutality, the soul-crushing sameness of the suburbs, religious hypocrisy and hereditary melancholia. Playwright Palmieri, who’s also an accomplished actor, crafts keen dialogue punctuated by telling pauses as the emotionally stunted characters try to connect. When the material works, it’s wonderfully witty and evocative, such as when Colleen’s hotelier fiancĂ© and her macho firefighter cousin bond over their undying love of Disney World. But often the feelings fall flat, especially the inevitable climactic showdown between father and son. We’re yearning for O’Neill-like fireworks; instead we get unbelievable fizzle.

Lighting and Sound America D
(David Finkle) Fact is, [the characters are] all a pretty dreary lot, and the burden of being a collective symbol of the shattered American dream doesn't make them any more interesting. (Some awkward wartime flashbacks and from-beyond-the-grave appearances by Jack do little to enliven things.) George Demas' direction doesn't cut through the general malaise, although, on a scene-by-scene basis, he does get some fine work from his cast. For example, Susan Bennett makes Colleen into a touching figure; the pleased, yet embarrassed way she announces her engagement makes for one of the play's better moments. Her disastrous attempt at rapprochement with Richard -- portrayed as a hair-raising mixture of guilt, rage, and affronted dignity by Curzon Dobell -- gives Levittown its one real jolt of dramatic energy. Todd Lawson is appealing as Brian, who just wants to take care of Colleen...In the end, Levittown offers little more than one-dimensional figures in a pre-determined structure of loss and heartbreak. One tragedy can break your heart; half a dozen are merely monotonous.

CurtainUp D
(Deborah Blumenthal) Marc Palmieri's new play takes places in Levittown, New York, the first of the four Levittown communities, in Long Island's Nassau County. Though it is named for and exists in a locale with a fascinating history behind it, the play barely makes good on the tools at its disposal. It's not about Levittown — it merely takes place there. And perhaps a primary reason for its failure to be compelling is its failure to adequately engage with or hinge on the history beneath its namesake. After opening with a brief rumination on the study of history and an explanation, from one character to another about what makes their house unique, the subject is all but completely dropped — swapped for a run-of-the-mill dysfunctional family play that could have taken place anywhere.

NYT A- 12; NYP B 10; TM C+ 8; TONY C- 6; LSA D 4; CU D 4. TOTAL = 44 / 6 =7.33 (C)

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