TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “Storefront Church” & “Medieval Play”
Get caught up with what’s on stage with our review round-up. And that vaguely hollow, clinking sound you hear at the end of each segment? That’s me tossing in my two cents. We’re doubling up with another “To See or Not to See” as two big name writers return to the stage with Off-Broadway premieres (and a special note about the new theaters they are playing in)…
Pulitzer and Tony-winner John Patrick Shanley (Doubt, Moonstruck) finishes his trilogy of church & state plays with a comedy/drama about disparate residents of the Bronx thrown together during foreclosure proceedings on a family home.
“…unwieldy but affecting new play…” New York Times
“But don’t go to John Patrick Shanley’s new play expecting ripped-from-the-headlines realism. This is more of a melancholy fable, or maybe a twisted fairy tale.” New York Post
“…wordy, unfocused and unresolved.” Variety
“…the intense drama about several related crises of faith opened in a quirky yet searing production…” Associated Press
Mizer’s Two Cents: While the central conflict is not entirely persuasive, the play is filled out with such endearing, moving supporting work (particularly from the heartbreakingly funny Zach Grenier) that I was happy to spend time in this world. And in a cynical age where most plays underline our personal/global inability to communicate, that Shanley reaches for a sense of collective hope and reconciliation (and silence) feels quietly revolutionary. See it if you want to watch a top notch cast engage with a problematic, searching script.
Oscar-nominee Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me) gets medieval on audiences with a comedy about two French mercenaries and Papal politics in the Middle Ages.
“Bloated, gaseous, archly self-conscious and on occasion truly funny, Kenneth Lonergan’s Medieval Play is like a vintage Saturday Night Live sketch that won’t die.” New York Times
“…we’re left with an overlong, self-consciously clever show where strained jokes are run into the ground.” New York Post
“…by turns silly and sophomoric, surprisingly smart, very funny and—sure enough—meandering.” Wall Street Journal
“..it’s a theatrical crusade that cries out for a new savior director — and a dramaturg, too — to lead a promising but overstuffed script to salvation.” Entertainment Weekly
Mizer’s Two Cents: Read the quote from EW above and give me an “amen”. I’ll leave it at that with a side note extolling the game pleasures of the talented and versatile cast. (Any play with the adorable Josh Hamilton cavorting around without his knickers can’t be too bad.)
Interestingly, both of these shows are playing in newly renovated/built theater spaces. What do we make of these new homes? The Frank Gehry-designed Pershing Square Signature Center is an impressive take on the current trend toward large, multi-theater complexes where audiences mingle in public spaces and at central bars. Clearly aiming for tech savvy folks, the lobby area is filled with touch screens featuring further information on the plays and the company; everyone looks like they are pretending to be Tom Cruise in Minority Report but with plastic wine cups in hand. I’m no architecture critic but the theater I saw Medieval Play in was slightly overwhelming with the lights on–all cement and empty space, but when the show started and the lights dimmed, I was impressed by the warmth of the playing space, clarity of the sight lines and the crispness of the technical experience.
Over at the renovated Atlantic’s Linda Gross Theater, they’ve retained their space in a church on West 20th but cleverly updated it by going under the existing building for new bathrooms and a small lobby. Like some sort of Roman catacomb, you see the layers of foundation cut away as you descend the steps — giving the whole thing a sense of history amidst the modern, industrial lines. It feels like the old, friendly Atlantic, only better, more comfortable, technically upgraded and without the need to walk up on stage to use the restroom. And that alone deserves an even bigger “amen!”