Thursday, September 10, 2009

Spinning the Times


By Geraldine Aron, Lucy Caldwell, Rosalind Haslett, Rosemary Jenkinson, and Belinda McKeon. Directed by M. Burke Walker. 59E59. (CLOSED)

Each critic appears to have his or her own favorite selection from this medley of five monologues. Martin Denton of prefers the life-or-death struggles of the three male playlets ("The Lemon Tree," "The Luthier," and "Fugue"), while the Post and Backstage single out Rosalind Haslett's "Gin in a Teacup." The New York Times, meanwhile, prefers "Miracle Conway" by Geraldine Aron. There is some dispute as to whether the unifying conceit -- five monologues based on five New York Times articles -- actually works or just distracts from the storytelling. For Tom Sellar at the Village Voice, this device makes the evening a redundant, undramatic exercise. 59E59 has offered a handful of bundled playlets this summer and this latest offering appears to have the most consistent quality, with no marquee standouts and no obvious failures. The varying preferences exhibited by the critics below is also a good sign.

Theatre Mania A-
(Christopher Byrne) What saves these works from being maudlin or self-indulgent are the largely unique characters and the fine writing by each playwright ... Gwiazadowski plays the conflicts beautifully, balancing bravado and fear and in the end being swept inevitably into the violence, a casualty of economics and abandonment ... Hova's understated performance is heartfelt and sweet, even in the face of horrific destruction ... Fine is very funny indeed and takes the familiar story of an adoring fan who turns psycho into some very comedic places. Her performance is a symphony of idiosyncrasies that make Miracle's derangement consistently appealing. Rosalind Haslett's Gin in a Teacup is about Romayne (Aysan Celik) who is waiting at a bar for her sister ... Celik plays it with quiet subtlety. It is both economical and powerfully moving. The final -- and weakest -- piece, Belinda McKeon's Fugue tells the story of David (Mark Byrne) who has fled Ireland to protect his younger brother from revenge against David for his acts of violence and lands in Queens ... While McKeon never develops the story sufficiently, Byrne is a strong and appealing actor who compellingly conveys the sense of utter loss and angry hopelessness of having everything stripped away. B+
(Martin Denton) I wondered why these two female protagonists in new plays by women are so inwardly focused, while the three males are caught literally in the crossfire of major religious/cultural conflagrations. Does this signify anything beyond mere chance? Regardless, the three fifths of Spinning the Times that are occupied by these men make for compelling, worthy viewing ... Jerzy Gwiazdowski gives an incisive performance as the young man, making this piece the highlight of the evening, and reason enough to see this quintet of plays. M. Burke Walker's staging of these five pieces is somewhat scattershot ... Overall, though, this is an exemplary program, although the framing device is hard to discern ...

Backstage B
(Nicole Villenueve) While the individual plays have high points, collectively they're much like a New York tabloid: a seemingly random assortment of stories that leaves the reader puzzled but fascinated ... Viewed individually, the plays—all monologues—have a certain charm, owing to their five actors. Jerzy Gwiazdowski zooms around the difficult playing space, using every inch of stage to relate the contents of his day. Ethan Hova is embarrassingly sincere when recalling the attempts of his friends to retrieve a porno during a cease-fire in Gaza. Fine, in her surreal wackiness, hits punch lines with faultless timing. "Gin in a Teacup" by Rosalind Haslett is perhaps the most successful of the bunch, combining sardonic humor with wistful longing for a lost cultural history that perhaps never truly existed. Aysan Celik's storytelling—from her tale of "the troll guy," Rumpelstiltskin, to her impersonation of her overbearing sister—is spellbinding.

New York Times C
(Neil Genzlinger) The best of the batch is “Miracle Conway,” a sly piece written by Geraldine Aron and performed by Rosemary Fine ... Rosalind Haslett provides another intriguing portrait in “Gin in a Teacup,” in which Aysan Celik plays Romayne, a woman quietly obsessed with vintage clothing and the stories behind the garments. The play’s resolution is unclear, but the snapshot is unusual enough that you want to see more of this character. The other three plays fall back on political themes — Irish, Middle Eastern or both — that, while heartfelt, have been sapped of their power by overuse. The best of these is “The Luthier” by Lucy Caldwell, about a Palestinian youth who is learning to repair violins. Ethan Hova gives a beautiful performance, though you know just where it’s going.

New York Post C
(Elisabeth Vincentelli) The better playlets aren't so great that they embarrass the lesser ones -- which aren't horrendous. Anthologies of monologues are often repetitive, too, as one character after another mulls over past significant events. Which is why Rosalind Haslett's "Gin in a Teacup" stands out: It does step onto memory lane, but to underscore the plight of someone who cannot remember anymore ... Perched on a high chair, Celik strikes affected poses that strive for nonchalance. You can't take your eyes off her, and in a few minutes she creates a rich character with untold potential. Geraldine Aron's "Miracle Conway" is more of a self-contained joke. Still, it's an effective one, as Aron progressively reveals the full battiness of the title character (Rosemary Fine), whose hobby is "improving lyrics." ... Lucy Caldwell spins a good yarn -- and Hova nicely underplays both the laughs and the pathos -- but the parallel between fixing violins and fixing bodies is ultimately facile ... The echo between the situations in Ireland and the Middle East also pops up in Rosemary Jenkinson's "The Lemon Tree," but once it's out in the open, the playwright has nowhere to go -- just like David (Mark Byrne) in Belinda McKeon's "Fugue."

Village Voice D
(Tom Sellar) Why, after all, do we need to hear an Irish writer re-imagine an American journalist's account of an actual Palestinian's life story, if the resulting mediated performance is not going to offer insights we couldn't get from reading the original article? These monologues mostly present familiar sentiments—resentments, grief—all told through garrulous self-narrators who talk at us with little exploration of who's listening and why ... The evening's best effort, titled Gin in a Teacup, comes from Rosalind Haslett, and, not coincidentally, she is the only writer content to have her speaker's identity unresolved, leaving us to wonder what's real and what's imagined about a mysterious beautiful woman in vintage garb.

TheatreMania A- 12; B+ 11; Backstage B 10; New York Times C 7; NY Post C 7; Village Voice D 4. TOTAL: 51/6 = 8.5 (B-)

1 comment:

Aaron Riccio said...

Yeah, I'm about the same on this one: