Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Saturn Returns


By Noah Haidle. Dir. Nicholas Martin. Lincoln Center Theatre. (CLOSED)

(Critic-O-Metered by Isaac Butler)

Noah Haidle's Saturn Returns, a memory play about three moments in a man's life and the three different women who impacted them, gets a real B- consensus from the critics, dragged down by John Simon's F- review. Most critics are taken with the conceit--the man is played by three different actors, while the three different women are played by one actress--but ultimately find the play a little shallow given the big-ticket themes it plays around with. The result: respectful but not especially enthusiastic notices.

The Canadian Press B+
(Unsigned Review) At barely 80 minutes, Haidle's tale is really more of a dramatic vignette, but it artfully covers a lot of territory in its intertwining of three stories about the same man, at three 30-year intervals in his life—ages 28, 58 and 88.

NY Daily News B
(Joe Dziemianowicz) As the 75-minute one-act ends, one wound is literally closed and another salved. If some events leading up to this encounter are a little contrived, the cast, the wonderful McMartin and Benton have made you care enough about their characters that you're happy to go with it.

Newsday B
(Linda Winer) The title is more cosmic than the drama in Saturn Returns, Noah Haidle's small and odd character study about three stages in the life of a radiologist in Grand Rapids, Mich. If not for a program note explaining the supposed impact of the planet's 30-year rotation, we would be left to appreciate the 70-minute play as just a chance to watch the wonderful John McMartin and James Rebhorn portray an elegant but childish, self-involved and needy widower in his 80s and his 50s, respectively. This is not an insignificant pleasure...But Haidle...here gives us quirky characters with quirky names (Gustin and Zephyr, anyone?) whose quirkiness is not quite its own reward.

NYTimes B-
(Charles Isherwood) Mr. Haidle's time-bending structure is formally elegant, and his use of recurring motifs in the dialogue to underscore the inevitability of loss in life is artful too. But his grasp of tone is slippery. The melancholy note the play strives for often sharpens into something more like sourness, despite a touching performance from John McMartin as the 88-year-old Gustin Novak of Grand Rapids, Mich., who tramps around his decaying mansion (evocatively designed by Ralph Funicello) with, for companionship, the specters of his former selves and of the women he loved and lost.

TheaterMania B-
(Patrick Lee) Noah Haidle's best known plays, like Mr. Marmalade and Rag and Bone, are absurd black comedies. Conversely, his newest work, Saturn Returns, currently at the Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theatre, is an uncharacteristically wistful and mostly straightforward memory play. Although both too slight and overlong at just 70 minutes, it's a gently touching work, which Nicholas Martin's first-rate production showcase to fine advantage.

Backstage B-
(David Sheward) Despite the gimmicky nature of the script, Haidle penetrates to Gustin's heart and shows how our actions and habits can echo across the years. Director Nicholas Martin elicits sterling and sensitive performances and avoids Hallmark-card sentimentality creeping into the proceedings.

Variety B-
(David Rooney) Haidle pushes too hard for humor, resulting in a certain fussiness to the dialogue. But while its emotional impact is too subdued to be satisfying, this is a more soulful effort than the playwright's grating Mr. Marmalade. With its repeated talk of birds migrating, winter arriving and night falling, the play captures the cycle of sadness, memory and unbreakable relationship patterns with quiet reverberations—even if it lacks the depth of insight to shed fresh light on its existential issues.

TalkinBroadway B-
(Matthew Murray) Saturn Returns, for all its honesty and beauty, doesn't linger long enough on anyone or anything for us to feel as deeply for its characters as they supposedly do for each other. Haidle has the beginnings of a real winner here, but needs to remember exactly what he wants to impart to us: Whether you have 30 years or 30 seconds, make every moment count.

The Record C-
(Robert Feldberg) The structure of Noah Haidle's Saturn Returns is considerably more interesting than its content.

Time Out NY C-
(David Cote) Haidle has an ambitious structural idea: We see a man’s life in intense, personality-defining vignettes, as he looks back ruefully on his younger self. It worked quite well for Dickens, but then, Charlie had Scrooge. Haidle’s Gustin is a sorry coot, with little substance beyond neediness, stubbornness and a tendency to wallow in self-pity. Nicholas Martin’s production for Lincoln Center Theater is predictably comfy and classy (to its detriment; a harder, minimalist treatment would add some heft to the text) and the performances are carefully rendered...For all involved, it must be a neat technical workout, but from the aisle, it seems like a lot of cold clockwork.

NY Post D+
(Frank Scheck) A disappointingly slight work depicting three stages in the life of the curmudgeonly Gustin, a doctor living in Grand Rapids, Mich...The conceit, while imaginative, provides little in the way of dramatic returns. The series of losses that permeate Gustin's lonely existence don't carry much cumulative emotional weight, and the elaborate structure framing them is more gimmicky than illuminating...Director Nicholas Martin has elicited terrific performances from the ensemble, particularly the ever-reliable McMartin.

Village Voice D+
(Michael Feingold) Saturn, a slow-moving planet, supposedly produces a changed consciousness of life when it enters your astrological chart, about once every 30 years. But Haidle's hero—played by three fine actors at 28, 58, and 88, respectively—remains the same stodgy, sardonic, otherwise traitless person throughout, while one appealing actress, Rosie Benton, tries to nudge change out of him as his wife, daughter, and home health aide. Short (75 minutes), slight, and sentimental, the play's tidy cleverness seems as vapid as its hero.

Bloomberg F-
(John Simon) Saturn Returns, however, has the distinction of being the dullest, most pointless piece the venerable Lincoln Center Theater has foisted on us in a very long time.

Canadian Press B+ 11; Daily News B 10; Newsday B 10; NYTimes B- 9; TheaterMania B- 9; Backstage B- 9;Variety B- 9; TalkinBroadway B- 9; The Record C- 6; Time Out NY C- 6; Village Voice D+ 5; NY Post D+ 5; Bloomberg F- 0; TOTAL: 90 / 13 = 6.92 (C)

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