Monday, November 18, 2013

The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence

The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence, at Playwrights Horizons, November 16, 2013

Madeleine George's gimmicky new play, a riff on sidekicks named Watson and their roles in history (real and fictionalized), is Playwrights Horizons' latest commission to reach their main stage.

The concept has merit, four Watsons all played by the same actor (John Ellison Conlee) flanked by three Mr. and Mrs. Merricks (David Costabile and Amanda Quaid), covering Sherlock Holmes' doctor friend, Alexander Graham Bell's assistant Thomas Watson, a computer repairman dweeb Josh Watson, and a fictional computer successor to IBM's 2011 Watson (a contestant on television's Jeopardy!). 

Ms. George spent a great deal of time trying to add intricacy in blending the story lines, but in the second act, things begin to unravel. After carefully allowing for proper costume changes, the transitions no longer allow the visual to match the script.  She also falls prey to a gratuitous nude scene at the top of Act 2 and an absurd and superfluous overuse of the word "preternatural."

This three-hander bounces about from sub-plot to sub-plot in increasingly frenetic jumps.  Initially, each scene is introduced with a shadowy variation on the line "Mr. Watson - come here - I want you," the delivered inflection of which intends to foreshadow the nature of the following interaction. After all the stumbling around, Bell's infamous quote becomes an odd moral of the play about one person's commitment to another, be they spouse, co-worker, whatever in a rambling speech from Ms. Quaid's contemporary Mrs. Merrick.  (Yeah, I was confused, too.) 

Director Leigh Silverman has assembled a talented cast to take on this effort.  Mr. Conlee's brings his four Watsons as much delineation as he can, though it is the artificial Watson's pleasant dead-pan that rang the truest.  Ms. Quaid fares a bit better in the writing of her Mrs. Merrick variations, the most contemporary being a brilliant computer engineer who conceived, built and programmed the artificial-intelligence Watson with the purpose of gathering input from users to help in medical diagnoses. Oddly, given a play's "free-pass" in the suspension of disbelief, Ms. George decides not to name the new computer Watson.  (Why not Dr. Watson, or Watson MD??)  Mr. Costabile gets the juiciest speeches from a political diatribe at the beginning when his account Merrick is running for local Auditor, to a Holmesian villain inventing weapons of death. Overall, the performances are consistent, but the flaws in the book hold back both the cast and director. 

Louisa Thompson's set is serviceable and sufficiently lit by Mark Barton. Anita Yavich does her best with costumes, but the script interferes with successful changes more than once.

The...Watson Intelligence runs through December 29.  See my previous post for discount ticket information.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Playwrights Horizons Discount - The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence

"The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence" at Playwrights Horizons


Regular run:  Nov 15-Dec 29
Tues-Wed at 7, Thu-Fri at 8, Sat at 2:30 & 8, Sun at 2:30 & 7:30

Order by Dec. 2 with the code WATBLOG and tickets are $45 (reg. $70) for all performances Nov 15-Dec 29


Call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 Noon to 8PM daily
In Person: Ticket Central Box Office, 416 W. 42nd Street between 9th & 10th Avenues

PH Mainstage Theater, 416 West 42nd Street between 9th & 10th Avenues

All That Fall

"All That Fall" at 59E59 Theatre, November 10, 2013

(Photo by Carol Rosegg)

All was gray - the afternoon, the audience, and for the most part, the somewhat starry cast, featuring Eileen Atkins and Michael Gambon, arrives from London (mostly) in this minimally staged radio play by Samuel Beckett, directed by Trevor Nunn. 

The story, being Beckett, is a bit nihilist, about an older woman of questionable health making her way to meet her blind husband at the train station.  We shuffle along with Mrs. Rooney (Ms. Atkins) as she encounters a menu of rural British characters, the dung peddler Christy (Ruairi Conaghan) on his cart, the retired Mr. Tyler (Frank Grimes) on his bike, the Clerk of the Racecourse Mr. Slocum (Trevor Cooper) in his car, each in advancing means of transportation, but none speeding the dreary tale along.  The aptly named Miss Fitt (Catherine Cusack), a protestant zealot gives Mrs Rooney the final bit of assistance upon arrival at the station.

After much consternation about the late arrival of Mr. Rooney's (Mr. Gambon) train, he finally appears slightly worse for wear, but tight-lipped about the cause of the delay.  I won't spoil the source, but there's an obscure plot moment near the end that suggests his part in it.

Performances are generally even, with Ms. Atkins bearing the majority of the spoken burden.  Her characterization is, as one would certainly expect, spot on, mumbling, grumbling, beseeching and complaining in every interaction.  Mr. Gambon arrives prepared to deliver to a full Broadway house, filling every inch of the theatre and then some.  Despite this overbalance, he still turns in a well-crafted performance.  The supporting roles are capably executed as well.

Mr. Nunn seems to have had little to do given the strength of his leading couple (both on book), other than lay out their traffic pattern and arrange the supporting roles around them.  Paul Groothuis' sound design distracts as much as it adds, featuring dragging footfalls for Mrs. Rooney that sound more like a spirit's presence in a mediocre haunted house.  The set, as it is, features suspended microphones which go largely ignored in a black room. 

Still Ms. Atkins and Mr. Gambon are the justifiable draw, evoking the ennui, frustration and anger of losing one's power in the world by remaining in it for so long.

This limited engagement of All That Fall runs through December 8.  Find tickets here.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

The Patron Saint of Sea Monsters

"The Patron Saint of Sea Monsters" at Playwrights Horizons, October 26, 2013

PH continues to develop new work for the stage, with this new play running in their Peter Jay Sharp Theater by Marlane Meyer.  Develop is an accurate description in this case because, in addition to being a preview performance during which new changes were being performed for the first time, the play still needs a lot of work.

The premise is interesting: how people are perceived and how relationships can bring change to those involved either because of, or in spite of those perceptions.  (That's my take, at any rate, since it took well into Act 2 for that theme to emerge.)

Until then, however, main characters Aubrey (Laura Heisler) and Calvin (Rob Campbell) bounce around a very clunky and unfocused first act, surrounded by a chorus of  two-dimensional, comic-book stereotypes, from white trash to murderous (Candy Buckley, Danny Wolohan, Jacqueline Wright, Haynes Thigpen).  Ms. Meyer seems to be reaching for grand allegories as Aubrey, a disabled doctor with an unhealthy faith in an obscure saint, falls in love with Calvin, the former high school jock who peaked sophomore year and now can't hold a job because of his drinking and drug habits.   Flaws in the supporting characters abound, from a sociopath brother, to a less-than-visionary medium.  Ms. Buckley makes the most of her various roles, delivering a spot-on Lois Smith impression as Aubrey's conservative landlady.  She's also a delicious, white trash Cruella DeVille as Calvin's mother in leopard leggings.

Director Lisa Peterson struggles with connecting the comic-book aspects to the more heartfelt moments and the pacing suffers as a result.  Rachel Hauck's set adds much and flexes well to accommodate the myriad scene locations.

PH offers discount tickets to The Patron Saint of Sea Monsters for my readers (both of you):

Regular run:  Oct 18-Dec 1
Tues 7, Wed-Fri at 8, Sat at 2:30 & 8, Sun at 2:30 & 7:30

Order by Nov. 5 and use the code SAINTBLOG
$40 (reg. $60) for all performances Oct. 18-Dec. 1


Call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 Noon to 8PM daily
In Person: Ticket Central Box Office, 416 W. 42nd Street between 9th & 10th Avenues