Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Great Recession


By Various Authors. Directed by Various Directors. At the Flea. Through December 30th.

( UPDATE: Two late breaking reviews say pretty much the opposite of what you'll find in the rest of this paragraph, which was written based on the initial crop of negative reviews.) The Flea resorts to Off-Off Broadway's oldest trick in the ticket selling book, a night of somewhat interrelated short plays by various writers, ensuring larger casts with larger groups of friends needing to see the show while spending less money on labor than a full production with the same cast would cost. This being The Flea, the playwrights are heavy hitters-- Itamar Moses, Adam Rapp, Sheila Callaghan, Thomas Bradshaw and Will Eno-- and the actors are the Flea's non-union apprentice company The Bats. The directors (including Kip Fagan, Jim Simpson and Ethan McSweeney) are no slouches either. The theme is the economic crisis. The results, according to critics, are largely as these things always end up, intermittently entertaining but ultimately less than the sum of their parts. What's left for them to argue about is which shorts work and which don't, with no consensus favorites forming at all.

NYTheatre A
(David Ian Lee) Too often, festival presentations of one-acts play as hodgepodges of intermittently related material, with grievous shifts in tone and quality. Such is not the case with The Great Recession: the evening's connective tissue has been cultivated with fiendish wit and propinquity. Expedient scene shifts are shaped by character (and are sprinkled with good-natured nudity; this brilliantly serves the double purpose of inoculating the audience from the shock of flesh later bared for darker purposes), and though few of the actors appear in multiple roles, the ensemble feels as tight-knit as the tiniest of repertories. Indeed, when the full 50-plus person cast appears for their curtain call, there is additional awe and wonder in the uniformity and collective spirit of such a large company. As a parting salutation, the curtain call itself is staged with humility and genuine gratitude. The Great Recession earned a standing ovation the night I attended, though the production virtually necessitated one after this graceful, final touch.

The L Magazine A-
(Robert Tumas) With six shorts, none harps for too long on any one trope of stereotypically hard times and focus instead on the people involved in experiencing them. There are a few moments in the production that border on a sort of holiday nostalgia and sap that I could have probably done with out, but the total effect was absolutely captivating and left me wanting more. If the recession has affected you in any way, you must go see this play—and if nothing else, they sell Keystone Light cans for a dollar at intermission, so it's the cheapest beer in town.

Backstage B
(David Sheward) In terms of volume, "The Great Recession" is certainly a bargain. Sporting six one-act plays and a cast of more than 50, this program presented by the Flea Theater offers plenty to chew on, though some of the fare is definitely fast food. Played with great energy and specificity by the Bats, the Flea's resident company of young actors, the six plays are fast and furious snapshots of the effects of the world economic downturn. Some are funny and touching; a few are screeds of horror with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

Lighting & Sound America B-
(David Barbour) Somebody at the Flea Theatre -- probably Jim Simpson, the inventive artistic director -- had the idea of commissioning a batch of short plays tied to the current economic mess and its effect on today's young adults. It was probably inevitable that the resulting six-pack -- known as The Great Recession -- would be wildly uneven, but it has its moments, and it allows one to get a look at the theatre's talented young acting company, The Bats. The most successful plays are those that get at the theme in sideways fashion, rather than head-on... If The Great Recession is better in theory than in execution, it's an appealing idea, one that I hope the Flea will apply to other themes.

Time Out New York B-
(Adam Feldman)In his recent TONY interview, the monologuist Mike Daisey bemoaned the institutional slowness of American theater, and used the scarcity of responses to the financial crisis as an example of this problem. So the Flea Theatre’s Jim Simpson should be congratulated for corralling six of the city’s best rising playwrights to tackle the subject head-on in The Great Recession, a collection of playlets (each 15 to 20 minutes long) performed by three dozen members of the Bats, the Flea’s below-the-radar acting company...if this topical anthology isn’t always great, at least it is not recessive.

Theatermania C+
(Patrick Lee) For The Great Recession, currently at The Flea Theatre, six of theater's hippest playwrights were engaged to write short plays related to the current recession and its effects on young people. While some are more successful than others, the hit-or-miss evening doesn't cohere nearly as well as one would hope.

Variety C-
(Sam Thielman) Short play collections are always a mixed bag, but rarely are they as mixed as the Flea Theater's The Great Recession. Boasting some of Off Broadway's most popular writers, the anthology varies wildly in tone from dystopian dirge to cynical comedy. The best of the bunch are Will Eno's ruminative "Unum" and Thomas Bradshaw's hilariously biting "New York Living," both of which manage to mine new seams in the much-discussed terrain of the financial crisis.

NY Post D+
(Frank Scheck) Forget the economy. What this well-intentioned but shallow evening shows is that what theater really needs is an intellectual stimulus program.

The New York Times D
(Charles Isherwood) Writing to theme can be challenging, and most of the work here feels sketchy, unfocused or simply banal. Even “Unum” does not represent Mr. Eno, the talented author of “Thom Paine (based on nothing),” at his most inspired.

NYTH A 13; TLM A- 12; BS B 10; LSA B- 9; TONY B-9; TM C+ 8; V C- 6; NYP D+ 5; NYT D 4; TOTAL: 76/8 = 9.5 (B/B-)


Unknown said...

Really bummed this is getting killed by the critics. I thought this was an incredible showcase of New York City's young theatre talent. I thought every one of the plays was a wonderful stylistic variation on the theme of how the economy factors into every one of our lives.

Anonymous said...

From review by Elyse Sommer

If you expect really fresh insights or characters from any of these plays, you'll be disappointed. To the playwrights' credit, they've managed to come up with six quite different situation. As might be expected, several have opted for apocalyptic visions that point to things getting far worse than they are already. Except for these doomsday scenarios the characters lean towards shallowness. But then, that's youth isn't it? And the doomsday scenarios notwithstanding, the folks at the Flea seem more bent on entertaining than enlightening. It starts with the clownish host who greets and chats up the audience and is also part of the first story and continues with a party-like atmosphere at the intermission that has the actors mingling with the audience to sell drinks and pretzels.

By interpreting the younger generation tag of Mr. Simpson's assignment as people in their 20s, the playwrights seem to have eliminated the possibility of family stories that would include teenagers, parents and grandparents. The best part of the evening overall is that each play is energetically performed by the large, attractive cast and is smartly staged with limited resources.

Anonymous said...

for those interested in a positive responses not included in Critic O Meter: