Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Grade: C

By Lila Rose Kaplan, Directed by Giovanna Sardelli. At Second Stage Uptown. (CLOSED)

Lila Rose Kaplan's Wildflower gets decidedly mixed reviews from the NY Press. Winning "Most Divisive Aspect" award? The play's ending (which critics dare not give away) which, depending on your POV, either adds unexpected depth and drama to the sit-com-ish rest of the play or drives the play straight into ludicrous and schematic territory. TalkinBroadway's Matthew Murray turns in a particularly difficult-to-grade review. He is quite enamored with the show, but feels betrayed by (and hates) its final five minutes. I pegged it at C+, due to the amount of space in the review devoted to the positives, but readers might have a different takeaway. UPDATE a late-breaker from the Village Voice has downgraded the show from C+ to C.

CurtainUp A
(Deborah Blumenthal) It seems like the perfect summer play: small town romance, nature, second chances. But what's really going on in Lila Rose Kaplan's Wildflower pulses with a much deeper intensity than its premise initially lets on. It's the kind of plot so unexpected, so affecting, and so daring that you want to tell it all to express how impressive it is, but can't because you'll spoil the experience. It is, in other words, exactly the kind of play that makes Second Stage one of the city's most dependable outlets for unique, provocative new plays.

Variety B
(Sam Thielman) With a little watering and some more sunlight, Lila Rose Kaplan's Wildflower will grow up to be a mighty play about love and death. Short script has excellent roots, with firm characterizations and graceful dramaturgy that combine to give the text a surprising slickness (borne out in the all-pro production)... The less said about the play's big surprise, the better, but it's worth noting that Kaplan's groundwork is hard to criticize. Suffice to say that when the performance is over, you're thinking more about whether you liked the ending than what it means for the characters, and that's not necessarily a good thing. On the other hand, the decision runs gleefully counter to the play's occasional undercurrent of whimsy, which is a good thing indeed.

NYTimes B-
(Ken Jaworoski) The play, written by Lila Rose Kaplan and presented at the McGinn/Cazale Theater as part of the Second Stage Theater Uptown Series, is performed by a solid cast, notably Ms. Smith and Quincy Dunn-Baker as James, a he-man with a tender soul beneath the tough surface. Giovanna Sardelli’s direction is skillful, using small moments and movements to heighten the humor, while Lap Chi Chu’s lighting is equally effective. Still, despite the talented cast and crew, there’s no getting around a final scene that is both incongruent and inorganic; the blunt ending mixes with the rest of the play the way motor oil mixes with fruit juice. It’s conceivable that Ms. Kaplan was looking for a tragic turn in the vein of “Of Mice and Men” or that she decided that her cheery comedy needed a shocking close. Whatever the reason, the move seems mistaken. She was doing just fine before that.

TalkinBroadway C+
(Matthew Murray) Sparkling...loaded with bite-and-run dialogue that’s also weighty enough that you never feel the characters are being sacrificed for laughs....Unfortunately, the play’s myriad successes become meaningless when Kaplan veers off her established course into a darker, stormier direction. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: It’s justifiable, even desirable, in certain circumstances. And as Kaplan’s goal isn’t merely to peddle escapism, but also to show the many ways love can be alternately beautiful and terrifying depending on its participants identities and histories, it’s even worthwhile for this play, which is at least as concerned with the dangers of isolation as it is the benefits of communities. But Kaplan doesn’t just abandon comedy by the side of the road, she kicks it out the passenger-side door at 80 miles per hour. She switches so quickly and so haphazardly to Twilight Zone-style creepiness that it doesn’t feel like the natural evolution of misplaced or misdirected laughs, but a betrayal of the foundation from which they originally sprang.

(Frank Scheck) THE botanical metaphors are as thick as weeds in Lila Rose Kaplan's new play, which explores hidden passions in a small town. The sort of quirky comedy that would probably knock them dead if it were a film shown at Sundance, Wildflower quickly wilts on the vine in its world premiere production at the Second Stage's uptown home...Under the direction of Giovanna Sardelli, the performers manage to be restrained in their characterizations, and the play has some amusing and tender moments.

TheaterMania D+
(Andy Propst) Nothing in this play about summertime love and teens coming-of-age happens because of human nature or psychology; instead, characters act in ways that are expedient for moving the piece's contrived plot forward...Theatergoers' patience with such machinations in the plot is only shortened by the ways in which Kaplan contorts the characters' behavior. James, whose homophobic baiting of Mitchell borders on assault, demonstrates a vulnerable and sensitive side at moments that can only be described as dramatically expeditious. Randolph, who's characterized as having an above-average IQ, never really exhibits any sort of true intelligence, or even common sense. When he turns to Mitchell for guidance about sex, he seems not so much naively innocent about the awkward position into which he's placing the older man as callously teasing. Further, Randolph's actions that lead to the play's denouement are simply ludicrous.

Village Voice D+
(Eric Grode) This all sounds more subversive and Lynchian than it really is. Not even director Giovanna Sardelli's no-nonsense pacing can mask the tin-eared quality of lines like, "What part of 'I don't want to go, I don't want to go, I don't want to go' did you not understand?" The exception to the play's overall lassitude comes in the last five minutes, when a drastic about-face sends the play into decidedly choppier waters. The initial jolt offered by this final twist, though, is quickly tempered by the realization that it's no less trite and underdeveloped—well, maybe a little less underdeveloped—than the 70 prosaic minutes that led up to it.

Backstage F+
(Leonard Jacobs) Lila Rose Kaplan's Wildflower is a wilted, stilted comedy. Its roots are submerged beneath a writing style lacking in nutrients. Its petals may please, but they die on the vine. Giovanna Sardelli's direction may orient the intertwined tales toward direct sunlight, but it's challenging to identify true beauty among so many weeds.

CU A 13; V B 10; NYT B- 9; TB C+ 8; NYP C 7; VV D+ 5; TM D+ 5; BS F+ 2; TOTAL: 59/8= 7.38 (C)


Anonymous said...

This was the worst play I've seen in ages and I think Second Stage should be embarrassed for producing it. Stock characters, under-realized premise, sitcom characters (Punky Brewster meets Benson meets Gossip Girl) and an un-earned potentially interesting ending.

I'm not sure who I'm more disappointed with-- the playwright for putting forth such an amateur play or the people responsible for a years worth of buzz about this substandard story.

Is this the best that we can do?

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that different audience members have such strong yet opposed reaction. For myself, I found Kaplan's writing crisp, sparkling, and quite funny. The audience seemed to agree, as there was a lot of laughter the whole way through, particularly given the strong performances of the girl and forest ranger characters. The ending was sharp and devastating, although on reflection it was rather foreshadowed. I am guessing that the ending is really what has polarized reviewers. I found it quite an interesting choice, actually. It shined a light on the dangerous nature of youth and our first sexual explorations. It was provocative, and Second Stage should be applauded for having the courage to choose such a vibrant yet complex piece.

Anonymous said...

I really loved most of this play - I thought the acting was wonderful, and the quality of the writing really raised it from the sitcom level to which so many reviewers are inexplicably banishing it. Almost any plot can be reduced to TV elements, but the way this story is treated - with so much heart and an interesting, specific voice - makes it much more than that. The language was vibrant and I really cared about and believed in the characters.

I had trouble with the ending - although it's plenty foreshadowed, it still felt like an abrupt turn that I wasn't prepared for. But this Uptown program is about supporting new voices, and I think taking risks is an inherent part of that. Who wants new voices that are boring and safe? I look forward to seeing what Lila Rose Kaplan does next.

Mark S. said...

To quote Oscar Wilde: "When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself."


Anonymous said...

The reactions to this play are incredibly varied. While I appreciate that some didn't like it and found the end unwarranted, I was thoroughly engrossed and thought the denouement was perfect. Unless you have an understanding of the frailities and complexity of people like Randolph, the play may seem to be a trick. I assure you it was not. Congratulations are in order for a play and performances which provoked such a strong response. I, for one, did not feel manipulated, but rather was drawn in and appropriately schocked by an end which I should have anticipated, but for the cleverness of the script and the acting.