Friday, June 12, 2009

Make Me


By Leslie Ayvazian. Directed by Christian Parker. Atlantic Stage 2. (CLOSED)

Critics for the most part find little to excite them in this play about couples who use S&M to spice up their relationships. Critics say that the actors cannot overcome Ayvazian's inconsistent script, which never goes anywhere. Critics also disapprove of the three stories occurring simultaneously, although they do like Anna Louizos's set, which gives equal space to the stories.

The Village Voice A-
(James Hannaham) Like drama, s/m only works when everyone's playing along. Otherwise, as Leslie Ayvazian's risky, funny piece Make Me demonstrates, the intrusion of the ordinary deflates the excitement... That last detail gives the play, directed by Christian Parker, an eerie energy despite the Durang-ish laughs up-front, suggesting a relationship between suburban repression and torture. B+
(David Gordon) Admittedly, the stakes aren't very high, and if the dramatic question is whether or not the relationships will survive, it's asked far too late into the 70-minute fugue and is rather inconsequential. These aren't characters that you particularly care about, although six excellent performances help a great deal. Ellen Parker and J.R. Horne are delightful as Sissy and Hank; Jessica Hecht (who can do no wrong) and Anthony Arkin are very nice as Connie and Eddie; Richard Masur's Mayor nicely conveys a great deal of emotion in downtrodden glances; and Candy Buckley is wonderful and terrifying as Mistress Lorraine. Parker's production keeps things moving very swiftly and, really, in the blink of an eye, it's over. His and Louizos's design concept elevates the themes of domination and submission from being more than just plot points. Theresa Squire's costumes are both simple and simply intimidating. Special credit should go to Tina Nagy, billed only in the back of the program as "whip consultant."

The New York Times B-
(Neil Genzlinger) Ms. Ayvazian’s interlocking triptych requires that the three pairs be seen simultaneously, and Anna Louizos’s well-conceived set makes that possible. The script, though, is erratic, and Christian Parker, the director, doesn’t quite turn it into a coherent whole. But Ms. Hecht is smashing as the would-be whipper who can’t quite leave the old Connie behind, and the actors have a good time delivering the play’s small point: Those who don’t have power want it, and those who do sometimes don’t.

Variety C+
(Marilyn Stasio) Ayvazian ("Nine Armenians") gets plenty of mileage from the slick production Christian Parker has mounted for the Atlantic Theater Company, where he currently serves as associate a.d. Coming up on Anna Louizos' multi-level set of two suburban households and a dungeon, the lights (Josh Bradford) are bright, the costumes (Theresa Squire) are cute, and the sound level (Jill BC DuBoff) is high. Everything on this stage says: Comedy Tonight... Roughly halfway through the play, it becomes obvious Ayvazian is more comfortable with illustration than analysis. Happy to play on comic surfaces, she rings endless variations on her basic theme and develops elaborate mechanisms to support her parallel plots. But at no point does she go deeper into the intimate relationships that she's opened up. Which means while the characters don't exactly go back to the same master-slave positions they held at the start of the play, they haven't exchanged many insights, either.

American Theater Web C-
(Andy Propst) This all can sometimes be incredibly funny. Parker's somewhat wide-eyed innocence attempts to spur Hank, whose dry dullness is beautifully conveyed by Horne, are a delight. Similarly, Hecht's nuanced portrayal of Connie – dripping with neuroses, neediness and desperation – charms. But other aspects of the play – particularly the overlapping of dialogue and the repetition of themes between the three couples – strains, particularly in director Christian Parker's muddy staging in which the sometimes simultaneous action becomes confusing. For instance, it's possible that theatergoers might misinterpret what's happening in Lorraine's dungeon (just one of three terrifically conceived playing areas from scenic designer Anna Louizos) just as there's a subtle, but incredibly important, shift in the dynamic of her relationship to Phil. Equally troubling are certain inconsistencies and unexplored core issues in Connie and Eddie's relationship (notably his demand that she make two separate dinners for him and the kids). Also, Ayvazian doesn't sufficiently prepare audiences for the depth of emotion in Lorraine and Phil's relationship.

Theatermania D-
(David Finkle) Sadly, Ayvazian has failed to provide anything illuminating about the predicaments in which the three putting-upon women and the three put-upon men find themselves. Moreover, she's jimmied it so that much of the action in the three busy spaces is simultaneous, which means the actors have to time their lines with surgical precision. Yet, even though director Christian Parker and the ensemble have scrupulously seen to this dramaturgical requirement, patrons are constantly aware that the deer-facing-headlights players must listen closely to each other while filling in the moments when they're waiting to utter their next piece of (feeble) dialogue. The attention focused on the playing is no proper way to focus attention on the play -- which may be a blessing in disguise.

Time Out New York F
(Adam Feldman) In Make Me, Richard Masur plays a man who pays good money to descend into a dungeon and get abused by a woman with a thing for bullwhips. The audience at Leslie Ayvazian’s play winds up doing much the same... All six are fine actors, but despite the best efforts of director Christian Parker (and a smartly detailed set by Anna Luizos), they mostly come off looking pretty silly. None can rise above Make Me’s schematic dramaturgy and literal-minded points about role-playing and power: The play has them whipped.

Talkin' Broadway F
(Matthew Murray) t’s a comedy that isn’t funny. It’s filled with sex and women in various stages of dress and undress, yet is not even mildly titillating. It’s a message piece that says nothing. Perhaps most maddening, it runs only 70 minutes, yet feels as if it drags on longer than the seven-hour trilogy day of The Norman Conquests... Almost every moment is misjudged. The joke is supposed to be that Connie’s trying to force a dangerous eroticism into her too-tired-to-be-sexy routine, but Hecht always behaves as though she’s dressing for a Halloween party immediately after receiving a root canal. Parker and Horne find absolutely no energy or smoldering romance in Sissy and Hank, and their grandma-and-grandpa shtick wears out its welcome early. Anna Louizos’s set captures the private (a bedroom), the public (a living room), and the fantasy (a domination parlor), but does so with no style or imagination. The influence of a guiding artistic hand is so unobservable given what’s onstage, one is forced to wonder what the billed director, Christian Parker, did at all. The only thing that temporarily stirs up the prevailing doldrums is Buckley. An actress who excels at playing women who dispense complicated truths, she has a halting, matter-of-fact voice and a rougher-edged attractiveness that don’t make her seem overtly ideal for embodying forbidden sex appeal.

New York Post F-
(Elisabeth Vincentelli) It's a waste of time to pause at this absurdity, because this show dispenses with the laws of logic and good writing. Worst of all, all three plotlines are shown simultaneously. It would have taken a much better director than Christian Parker to make this work. And so we watch actors wait awkwardly while their colleagues get on with their lines. The experience is nothing short of painful, which, granted, may count as an achievement of sorts for a show revolving around S&M.

The Daily News F-
(Joe Dziemianowicz) As it is, it's torture — and not in a good way. Director Christian Parker and the cast should remember never to add it to their credits... The play presumably seeks to comment on relationships, sexuality and control, but just skims the surface and wastes time for 80 minutes.

The Village Voice A- 12; B+ 11; The New York Times B- 9; Variety C+ 8; American Theater Web C- 6; Theatermania D- 3; TONY F 1; Talkin' Broadway F 1; New York Post F- 0; The Daily News F- 0; TOTAL: 51/10 = 5.1 (D+)

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