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Posted by Rob Weinert-Kendt at 03/05/11

There was no contest in the past few weeks, a busy time with some strong showings: Invasion!, Jonas Hassen Khemiri's topical satire, sailed to the top spot with a resounding A. (This Play Company import from Sweden only runs through Mar. 13, so time is ticking.)

The next best grades were in the respectable B+ range. That was the grade stamped on the past week's most auspicious opening, David Lindsay-Abaire's dramedy Good People, at Manhattan Theatre Club; on The Public LAB's lean, modern Timon of Athens; and on the Wooster Group's twisted multimedia take on Tennessee Williams' late Vieux Carre.

Meanwhile, at the Village's Rattlestick Theater, prolific bad boy Adam Rapp unleashed an ambitious triptych of plays in repertory, all set in a single tenement hallway over the span of a century, and titled simply The Hallway Trilogy; reactions were intense on both ends of the spectrum, with a resulting median of B-. The folks behind the Scottish hit Black Watch returned to St. Ann's Warehouse with Beautiful Burnout, which critics found stunning but somewhat empty, with a C+ result.

Finally, bringing up the rear was the unbeloved political romcom The Body Politic at 59E59, with a D+. From A to D+ is quite a spread, but the past few weeks managed to cover it.


Posted on 03/05/11
Photo from Beautiful Burnout
Photo: Gavin Evans

C+

Critics find a lot to like about Beautiful Burnout: the boxing-inspired choreography, the aggressive music courtesy of Underwold, the talented seven-person cast, and the innovative design elements (set by Laura Hopkins, video by Ian William Galloway, and lighting by Andy Purves). The problem for most critics is that Byrony Lavery's script is a generic boxing story, keeping the play from being anything more than all style. Elisabeth Vincentelli, giving the play its highest grade, makes the interesting point that boxing stories are never original, so what matters is the way the story is told.


Posted on 03/04/11
Photo from Good People
Photo: Joan Marcus

B+

When last Abaire his pen for scripts did work,

His Rabbit Hole critics could not despise.

His abandonment of surreal and quirk

Led straight to glitt’ring Pulizer's Prize.

Now with Good People he returns to stage-

With Sullivan and McDormand in tow-

The tale of Margaret, deep in middle age,

From whose Southie life a full play must flow.

This is no noble king set for a fall,

But a single mother sharply drawn;

Some critics thus find the matter too small,

Or jokey, lacking in dramatic brawn.

But most the scribes do solemnly agree,

Good People makes good watching, go and see.


Posted on 03/02/11
Photo from Timon of Athens
Photo: Joan Marcus

B+

Taken together, the critics seem to be saying that this is a fresh, crisp production of a notoriously messy play. Only Jeremy Gerard of Bloomberg News gives an unalloyed rejection. Most reviews discuss the flaws of the script and the limits of Richard Thomas's titular performance, with both or either blamed for a sagging second half. For taking on a timely "problem play" with sweep and style (and doing so at $15 a ticket), the Public's inaugural LAB Shakespeare production receives mostly encouraging reviews.


Posted on 02/26/11
Photo from The Body Politic
Photo: Carol Rosegg

D+

There's no red-blue split between critics on this one: It's a landslide of shrugs. Mark Peikert, of New York Press, points out that the play "was funnier when it was called Speechless, and starred Michael Keaton and Geena Davis," and there's a general consensus that although the two politics-crossed lovers here look good, they lack the chemistry of the duo they're blatantly modeled after. As the New York Post's Frank Scheck puts it, "Think James Carville and Mary Matalin, only hotter."


Posted on 02/26/11
Photo from The Hallway Trilogy
Photo: Sandra Coudert

B-

Apart from a few raves that glimpse an overarching purpose behind this triptych of same-set plays by the prolific Adam Rapp, even many who praise individual works or elements here, don't quite get why he's chosen to tell these three particular stories in a hallway (Alexis Soloski is especially probing on this question). And there's dissent over whether the final play, the dystopian splatterfest Nursing, is the trilogy's high or low point, with more consensus that the middle play, Paraffin, is a keeper. Beowulf Boritt's set, Tyler Nicoleau's lighting, and Jennifer Pabst costumes get near-universal praise. Rapp's infamous shock-value elements are alternately deplored and appreciated.


Posted on 02/23/11
Photo from Vieux Carre
Photo: Paula Court

B+

With the exception of Helen Shaw's balls-out rave for The Wooster Group's 70s porn-inflected deconstruction of Tennessee Williams' Vieux Carre the reviewers seem respectful, but unenthusiastic. Charles Isherwood is reduced to summarizing the plot and production choices, and both Andy Propst and Elisabeth Vincentelli get bored after awhile, the former because of the script the latter because of the production. Either way, everyone seems more than happy to have yet another bottom shelf obscure Williams play come to New York for his 100th birthday, regardless of whether they end up loving the eventual results.


Posted on 02/23/11
Photo from Invasion!
Photo: Carol Rosegg

A-

A Swedish satire about the war on terror has been surprisingly well-translated, say the critics. It's all the more surprising, notes the Times' Jason Zinoman, because the play is also about the tragicomic confusions of language. Director Erica Schmidt gets extra credit for surfing the comic-tragic edge and her four-person ensemble manages multiple roles with equal dexterity. Except for voicing the usual reservations about missing something in translation, critics are overwhelmingly pleased with the Play Company's latest import.


Posted by Rob Weinert-Kendt at 02/21/11

It was the best of times and the worst of times for theatre beyond Broadway this past week, with three wildly divergent shows (two way out in Brooklyn) coming out on top, each with an A-: Geoffrey Rush's bravura turn in the title role of Gogol's Diary of Madman at BAM; Half-Straddle's endearing gridiron goof In the Pony Palace/Football at the Bushwick Starr; and LAByrinth's production of Melissa Ross's gritty family comedy Thinner Than Water. Also getting mostly raves, for a B+, is Jeff Cohen's brief speculative diversion, The Man Who Ate Michael Rockefeller.

The dropoff from there is precipitous, with one of the week's most anticipated shows, Rinne Groff's Compulsion at the Public Theater, garnering deeply ambivalent reviews for its stylized approach to the tangled Anne Frank/Meyer Levin story, and for the divisive performance of Mandy Patinkin, resulting in a C+. My Scandalous Life at Irish Rep tells another history of an unbeloved hanger-on to a large literary reputation--in this case, Alfred Lord Douglas and Oscar Wilde--to a disappointed reception of C-.

Faring worst is David Hay's dinner-party-from-hell play A Perfect Future at the Cherry Lane, which critics gave an F+. If it's any consolation, that's also Spider-man's critics' grade (Spidey's community grade, on the other hand, has swung up to C-.)


Posted on 02/20/11
Photo from A Perfect Future
Photo: Richard Termine

D

Critics really don't like David Hay's new get-the-guests exercise, which they nearly unanimously compare unfavorably to a certain Albee classic. A few spare some kind words for Wilson Milam's direction, Charles Corcoran's set, and a few of the performers, but by and large this is a wine-drowned dinner party most critics would just as soon not have had the pleasure of.