Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Love/Stories (or But You Will Get Used To It)


By Itamar Moses. Directed by Michelle Tattenbaum. The Flea Theatre. (CLOSED)

Most critics were mightily entertained by Itamar Moses' anthology of five one-acts about the meta-theatrics of contemporary romance, staged in the tiny basement of the Flea Theatre, though more than a few reviews found Moses' insistent authorial presence, from a recorded pre-show announcement to the self-reflexive themes of the playlets, to be close to self-indulgence. Only one critic, Variety's gobsmacked Sam Thielman, adored the play's final, self-revealing monologue; most others either didn't like it or felt it was badly placed at the climax. All the critics gave high marks to the Flea's young Bats and to director Michelle Tattenbaum. Amusing typo of the week: WSJ's Terry Teachout refers to the Flea's young company, the Bats, as "the Rats."

Variety A+
(Sam Thielman) A hell of a lot of fun. "Love/Stories" follows similar well-meaning, if slightly schlubby guys through funny-sad encounters with similar manipulative, unfaithful, histrionic women. With each piece, the writer trots out another ingenious formal device to pick at the knot in his protagonist's heart, but he doesn't seem to be getting any closer to undoing it until at last, he tells us so in the evening's marvelous final monologue...A revelation.

That Sounds Cool A
(Aaron Riccio) Moses works through the worries of a post-modern age by, appropriately enough, getting post-post-modern on them...It's all exceptionally handled by the five-man ensemble of Bats (the repertory actors of The Flea), whose youth allows them to grasp the circuitous and often broken logic of the characters, and Michelle Tattenbaum, whose previous direction of Moses's work has taught her to let the words speak for themselves.

Wall Street Journal A-
(Terry Teachout) Mr. Moses is among the few playwrights who can write interestingly about writers and their work, a subject that is usually dramatic poison, and he's done it again...Michelle Tattenbaum, who has staged several of Mr. Moses' plays but whose work is new to me, has done a terrific job with "Love/Stories," whose postmodern prestidigitation poses some formidable directorial challenges. How, for instance, do you stage a three-character playlet in which two of the characters neither speak nor move? The one comparatively weak link in "Love/Stories" is the last of the five plays, "Untitled Short Play"...This is the fourth show of his that I've seen, all of them different in tone and subject matter and all equally impressive. Is there anything he can't do?

American Theatre Web A-
(Andy Propst) Might very well be one of the smartest comedies theatergoers will find on stage in New York this winter...Unfortunately, Moses concludes "Love/Stories" with his most indulgent piece. In "Untitled Short Play," an author (played with a keenly comic sense of authority by John Russo) describes the process of writing a two-character scene, and the pitfalls and omissions that are inherent with the act of creation. It's certainly smart, but it also feels overlong and something like an excuse from Moses or an act of self-justification, ending the evening on an almost pedantic note.

CurtainUp A-
(Elyse Sommer) I laughed quite a lot at Itamar Moses' quintet of one-acts. To be sure, with that slash and parenthetical add-on, the title hints at a certain authorial pretentiousness that's part of the fun. A minor quibble, considering that these thematically connected playlets showcase the expert comic talents of five of the Flea's resident acting company, the Bats, and that you don't need a stimulus plan to pay for a ticket to the downstairs space that puts everyone in a premium seat. The connection between the plays is forged by Michelle Tattenbaum's polished direction...These playlets lack the substance of the author's full length Bach at Leipzig, The Four of Us and, more recently, Back Back Back...However, these attractive young actors easily wrest every drop of humor and meaningful subtext from their characters.

Theatermania B+
(Dan Balcazo)
Frustrated love affairs and quirky metatheatrics characterize Itamar Moses' evening of short plays...Under Michelle Tattenbaum's deft direction, the playlets...are generally amusing, and at times thought-provoking and emotionally resonant...Unfortunately, the fifth and final play misfires. John Russo delivers a monologue that purports to set up a scene, while instead supposedly allowing the audience into the head of its author...As the descriptions of these five pieces indicate, Moses seems preoccupied with inserting himself or at least some kind of authorial figure into several of the texts. B+
(David Gordon) The plays are just as funny, if not funnier, than the inspired pre-show announcement. They're also thought-provoking, with a strong subtextual sadness. There are three themes that alternate among the five plays: love, lost love, and how authors create and manipulate...The final play, Untitled Short Play, during which the narrator describes what's going on in the heads of two characters staring at the audience, would fare better earlier. It's a lengthy monologue during which our interest goes in and out. Moses has a keen eye for human feelings. There's something innately relatable within these plays...and there's one line in Authorial Intent that really got to me. "In order to get what I wanted," one character begins, "I had to learn so much about it that I ruined forever my ability to enjoy it."

Time Out NY B+
(Adam Feldman) Followers of Itamar Moses’s burgeoning career may have noticed something odd: None of his plays to have opened so far in New York...have featured any female characters at all...Does this clever young man know what to do with a lady? Or will he fumble his passes? Moses begins the date deftly with a meet-cute story set at an audition. In the second piece, he smartly lays on more humor and charm with help from the adorable Maren Langdon, as a woman in the throes of a massive comic breakdown on the phone, and Michael Micalizzi, as the coworker who can’t help listening in. The playwright sensitively changes mood in a metatheatrical triptych...Unfortunately, Moses ends what could have been a lovely evening on a sour note: the kind of dull, rambling, self-obsessed monologue—performed by a too-slick John Russo—that makes dinner companions run for their coats. But there’s more than enough good writing here to make you want to see Moses again.

Edge New York B+
(Susan Reiter) As the 90-minute evening unfolds, two of the overriding themes that link its five disparate works are theatrical gamesmanship, and the messy aftermath of relationships gone sour. Both of these figure strongly in this work, which handily introduces us to all five members of the cast. It also introduces an ongoing concern of the evening: the insular, insecure, needy world of actors...The crisp, nuanced performances the five actors deliver in Moses’ opening salvo are sustained throughout...In Michelle Tattenbaum’s crisp, intelligent production, they fit together smoothly and reverberate smartly off each other.

High 5 B+
(Benn Ellentuck) Jumping jauntily, if not maladroitly, from an audition to an office to an apartment to an interview program to a cafe and all the meta-world in between, from the seemingly unsuspecting naturalistic to the brusque Brechtian, Love/Stories chronicles romance at various points in relationships, from the before very first spark to long after the bitter end, with particular regard to the correlation between love and self-expression. Thankfully, four out of the five pieces not only recognize but thrive upon the integral relationship between love and art...The evening is, at best, enlightening for some, but certainly enjoyable for all...Michelle Tattenbaum's adept direction, which fully utilizes the seemingly overcomplicated set that is, perhaps, a bit ambitious for the size of the space, manages to keep everything and everyone in line.

New York Times B
(Neil Genzlinger) Itamar Moses...has given the cast fine material with which to showcase its abilities: some accents, a few mood swings, a little crying and lots of laugh lines that require perfect comic timing...The final vignette, “Untitled Short Play”...[is] the least satisfying of the pieces—writers should never write about the art of writing—but Mr. Russo makes it relatively painless.

New York Post B
(Frank Scheck) Our enjoyment of these slight but well-written pieces is marred by his injecting himself a little too much into the proceedings. Performed by the Flea's talented young resident ensemble The Bats, the plays reflect a bittersweet attitude toward love. The best vignettes are also the most straightforward - including the one about a playwright who begs an actress to sabotage the audition of an actor who's dating his ex-girlfriend; a brief moment of passion between two temps, one of whom is still distraught over a breakup; and a lecture given by a Russian director in which he bitterly reveals his knowledge of his lover/translator's affair. It's when Moses insists on self-reflexive posturing that the evening suffers.

Village Voice B
(Eric Grode) Bemused resignation gives way here to aggressive micromanagement, and Moses's exactitude has its grating moments: a lengthy pre-show speech recorded by the author himself, a concluding playlet devoted entirely to a stage direction. But the other three pieces (and chunks of that final piece) offer witty, deceptively breezy dissections of what men and women—and playwrights—want...The five actors navigate the virtuosic text with more or less equal skill, although Michael Micalizzi is most in sync with Moses's earnest rhythms: "I'm not as smart as my lack of good looks might have you believe," demurs one of Micalizzi's characters. Tellingly, he appends this line with "A playwright friend of mine gave me that one."

Offoffonline B
(Amy Freeman) The plays all have charm and the actors are all very engaging and energized, but occasionally the meta-nature of the plays gets to be a bit much. “Untitled Short Play” is the most static of the plays, given that no action in the traditional sense occurs—it is a play “hijacked by its opening stage direction.” However, John Russo is vibrant as the Reader, hopping around the Flea's wide stage obsessing over what could possibly happen in the scene that never happens. One would like it if the “play” were to actually begin, but then again, the Reader is quite compelling and his complaints understandable. The strongest of the plays is “Szinhaz,” which is structured as a talk show, with an actress, Marie, interviewing a brooding Russian director.

Total Theater B
(Richmond Shepherd) Moses is a funny contemporary writer of romantic encounters and relationships...Near the end, the show didn’t grow in intensity or interest – it drooped. The [final] monologue could have been left out with its logorrhea speculating on inner thoughts. Why alienate the audience near the finish? We’re trapped while the author’s boring remarks on writing are spoken by the poor actor (he was so long-winded, I began to hate him). I hope Itamar Moses is young and just doesn’t know any better yet. He’s really a bright, funny guy.

Backstage C+
(Leonard Jacobs) Ranging from the comic to the cringe-worthy, these five one-acts by Itamar Moses suit the Flea Theater's downstairs venue because its wide, shallow space renders the fourth wall into a silly convention...Moses' writing goes from a nice mix of head and heart into nutty navel-gazing. In Authorial Intent, a newly cohabitating couple (Holland and Micalizzi) breaks up. Instead of the scene ending, however, they relive the scene moment by moment, declaring to us which lines, looks, or blocking elements constituted a "performative instrument" or "formal device." When this ends, we discover the actors were playing actors in a play within the play. Then the male actor hits on the female...And piece five, Untitled Short Play, is psychobabbling twaddle...Also nice is Tattenbaum's work, which allows the plays to breathe. The trouble is that Moses is gasping for air.

Variety A+ 14; That Sounds Cool A 13; WSJ A 13; ATW A- 12; CU A- 12; TM B+ 11; Nytheatre B+ 11; TONY B+ 11; EDGE NY B+ 11; High 5 B+ 11; NYT B 10; VV B 10; NYP B 10; Offoffonline B 10; TT B 10; BS C+ 8; TOTAL: 177/16=11.06 (B+)


Aaron Riccio said...

I liked the final monologue.

Rob Weinert-Kendt said...

But did you adore it?

Miss Nutmeg said...

i did adore it actually. :)