Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Confidence Man


Created and produced by Woodshed Collective on the U.S.C.G ship Lilac. (CLOSED)

Here's a great demonstration of why Critic-O-Meter exists: The New York Times' Wilborn Hampton hated this site-specific multi-narrative show, based loosely on Melville's novel and staged all over a decommissioned boat on the Hudson River, but his is a lonely dissent from a chorus of raves for the show's intricacy, cohesion, site-specificity, and enchantment. Seriously: Every other critic either loved or warmly admired this show. Now, don't get us wrong, some of our favorite critics are inveterate outliers and contrarians, and we don't begrudge them their opinions. But when the lone voice of dissent, positive or negative, happens to have the biggest megaphone in town, we think it's important to exert a little counterweight. The "paper of record," in other words, isn't the whole record.

Gothamist A+
(John Del Signore) 2009’s most exhilarating theatrical achievement...This enthralling production is the work of Woodshed Collective, a company that specializes in immersive, site-specific performance...Part of what makes the experience so thrilling is that you’re free to break away from the group and wander the ship without guidance, which, in my experience, afforded small, wondrous moments of intimacy, spied through portholes or within dainty staterooms. On more than one occasion, I was the talented actors’ only spectator. I also noticed a tabby cat pass by me on the stairs at just the right moment. Was it part of the show? Was I?...Most definitely a work of dazzling genius, a spellbinding feat of collective creativity...I am personally offering a full refund to any Gothamist reader who leaves the Lilac in any way unimpressed.

Time Out NY A
(Adam Feldman) Marvelously intricate and involving...The sheer ambition of the project is impressive in and of itself: Set aboard theLilac Steamship at Pier 40, The Confidence Man comprises at least a dozen of stories about charlatans and mountebanks, some of them adapted from Herman Melville’s novel of the same name...But The Confidence Man is much better than it needs to be for gimmickry’s sake alone. Paul Cohen’s script—which, when all the tracks are included, is some 330 pages long—bulges splendidly with clever frills and fillips, and touches on interesting questions of knowledge and faith....Here’s the capper: This entire unique theatrical adventure is being offered free of charge. Since the Woodshed folks are obviously pros at the con, you have to wonder: What’s their angle? A
(Heather Lee Rogers) A fun and unique experience...There are several, fully developed storylines all happening simultaneously—each exploring the art, morality, and tragedy of the "con"...The ship is a chaos of activity. About six different groups of audience members criss-cross through scenes, up and down steep ladder-like stairs, up to the deck, down into the hull, and sometimes cramming into tiny rooms leaving barely enough space for the actors to perform...I enjoyed the pandemonium and was impressed by the elaborate timing and choreography that must have gone into building it.

Variety B+
(Sam Thielman) It's a good thing "The Confidence Man" is free -- it requires at least three viewings. Not because it's particularly obtuse or dense, but because there are three different, dovetailing strands of playlets in simultaneous motion aboard the good ship Lilac, a rusty old tub that sits at Pier 40 on the Hudson. Nominally inspired by Herman Melville's novel of colorful steamboat passengers, Paul Cohen's gratifyingly ambitious script manifests itself less as a single play than an impressively cohesive piece of installation art about swindling, literally buoyed by the verisimilitude of its maritime setting...The writing varies from bit to bit; many of the 31 performers seem to feel understandably less at ease spouting unconvincing "period" dialogue than running the more contempo lines. Cohen's ending, which puts a bow on the proceedings, is also a little problematic, mostly because of the show's diffuse, labor-intensive concept and execution. As a whole, "The Confidence Man" works well enough to make a pat ending feel redundant.

The New York Times F
(Wilborn Hampton) The novel is a beautifully written yet complex work that could be a precursor to Nabokov, Pynchon or Murakami. The muddle that is being presented aboard the Lilac, a onetime lighthouse tender now docked on the Hudson, was written by Paul Cohen and is said to be “inspired by” Melville’s novel. That’s perhaps the biggest swindle involved: tricking an audience into thinking it was going to see a staging of Melville’s great opus. For an hour and 45 minutes, the audience is free to wander about the Lilac and watch little vignettes taking place in cabins or on various decks. Many are based on puerile sexual innuendo. In one, for example, a young man and a woman sit at laptops in the ship’s computer room, typing out those ads for penile enhancement that clog so many spam filters. If any of it were funny, the exercise might pass as parody. Travesty, however, is the word that springs to mind...A cast of 31 is listed in the program, but there is no real acting involved in the skits. The performers more resemble those actors who entertain visitors at historic sites like Plymouth Plantation or Colonial Williamsburg.

Gothamist A+ 14; Time Out NY A 13; A 13; Variety B+ 11; The New York Times F+ 2; TOTAL: 53/5=10.6 (B+)

1 comment:

joshcon80 said...

This happened to me with my last play. Rave reviews and then a big "meh" from the Times. It was very painful, to say the least.