Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Outside People

"Outside People" at Vineyard Theatre, January 7, 2012

Playwright Zayd Dohrn brings another tale of a stranger in a strange land to the NY stage with his Outside People.

It's an earnest and awkward effort, much like its main character, Malcolm (Matt Dellapina), a recent college graduate with no job or direction in his life.  His former roommate David, (Nelson Lee) has returned to his native China to start his own business.  He flies Malcolm over to work for his company as repayment for Malcolm's kindness to his when they were students.

David arranges a date for Malcolm upon his arrival with Xiao Mei (Li Jun Li), whose murky connection to David clears up a little obviously as the true nature of David's business is revealed.

Mr. Dohrn treads very similar ground to this season's Chinglish on Broadway, but without the laughs or the interesting characters.  Also similar to Chinglish are several scenes in Chinese, yet the audience doesn't get the benefit of super-title translations at the Vineyard.  The tone certainly come through with the tone of voice and inflection, but it's a particularly frustrating experience if there are audience members who actually do understand Chinese. Ultimately, Mr. Dohrn cuts through several old stereotypes while managing to support some new ones.

The cast does their best to give depth to their characters, but the writing is a little thin for them to accomplish much.  Director Evan Cabnet continues the trend of music loudly underscoring scene changes completed by the cast with no originality in sight.  Ben Stanton's combination set borrows a bit from Allen Moyers' 2006 design for Little Dog Laughed.

In the end, it's an unremarkable production performed by competent actors.  Outside People runs through January 29.  Get tickets here.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Relatively Speaking

"Relatively Speaking" at Brooks Atkinson Theatre, December 20, 2011

As the graphic indicates, this is an evening of 3 unrelated one-act plays.

First up, Talking Cure by Ethan Coen.  Mr. Coen, you make very interesting movies.  Please return when you have an interesting play to show us.  Of all the work I have seen you produce for the stage (Offices, Almost an Evening), none have met that category yet.

Second, George is Dead by Elaine May.  Coming across as Ms. May's version of Neil Simon, this is the better constructed piece.  Doreen (Marlo Thomas) turns up on Carla's (Lisa Emery) doorstep late one night announcing the news that George (Doreen's husband) is dead.  We soon learn that Carla is the daughter of Doreen's childhood nanny, and that Doreen remains a child in more ways than one ought at her age.  Carla, shoved into the role of nanny, succumbs and takes charge making arrangements.

Ms. Emery makes a valiant effort as Doreen's foil.  Ms. Thomas' Doreen seems to have been written (certainly costumed and styled) for Kathie Lee Gifford.  She wheedles and whines, sharing an analogy of conversations as "underwear stories" where she gets bored halfway through and stops paying attention.  It feels as though Ms. May did the same. 

Third, Honeymoon Motel by Woody Allen.  Mr. Allen starts with an interesting premise, then gives up and resorts to Catskill-comedy style one-liners for each character to mug.

Santo Loquasto crams a lot of scenery onstage for these three unrelated productions, each exceeding their source material.

It's hardly an auspicious directorial debut for John Turturro.  Perhaps he was distracted by his own preparation for his appearance in CSC's Cherry Orchard.  Perhaps he was merely underwhelmed by the poor material he'd been enlisted to stage.

Relatively Speaking is on an open-ended run.