Review: Marvin’s Room @ Roundabout

My friend Matt and I went to see Roundabout’s revival of Marvin’s Room, by Scott McPherson, staring Janeane Garofalo and Lili Taylor, at the American Airlines Theatre last weekend. Matt told me it was about death. Yippee. We’d seen Garofalo onstage once before, years ago when she was in The New Group’s “The Russian Transport” (also an uplifting piece) so we had optimistic expectations.

Lili Taylor is Bessie, a woman taking care of her bed-ridden father with her elderly aunt Ruth, living in Florida, and her life, as you can imagine, is difficult, and it only gets worse when she’s diagnosed with leukemia. After she’s in remission, her sister Lee (Garofalo) comes to visit with her two children, Hank and Charlie (played by Jack DiFalco and Luca Padovan, respectively). Hank also happens to be on leave from his stay at a “looney bin” (their words) after burning his family’s house down.

To say Marvin’s Room is depressing is an understatement of epic proportions. Bessie and Lee try to revive their sisterly relationship and Bessie connects better with Hank than his mother ever could have. Garofalo is very good – she gets the job done. And although I’ve enjoyed Lili Taylor onscreen in the past, the stage is not her sweet spot. DiFalco and Padvocan, the sons, were probably the highlight for me, as well as Celia Weston (Bessie’s aunt Ruth).

I’m not sad I saw this, but you should definitely know how depressing it is before you head into the theatre. Just so that your expectations are tempered enough.

I’d seen Thomas Bradshaw’s last play, Burning, a couple of years ago so I knew what I was getting myself into when I “signed up” to see Intimacy, his latest work produced by The New Group.

There is a lot of nudity, masturbation, and fake semen in this one. It’s about three families in some small American town whose lives are kind of turned upside-down when one of the widower-devout Christian father’s discovers one of the girls next door is a porn star. Values are examined, the porn star’s father has to come to terms with his daughter’s career choice (as the mother seems incredibly supportive), and the climax (no pun intended) is all three families acting in a porno together filmed directed by the devout Christian’s son, Matthew (I’m pretty sure that was his name).

This is the intimacy that that the title refers to. It’s a little weird. Okay, very weird. And incredibly unbelievable, but hey, maybe it’s not so much as we hear more and more nowadays about mothers and daughters doing porn together and the like. The writing in Intimacy was never Pulitzer Prize worthy but when the plot atrophies, so does the writing.

Bradshaw likes to see how far he can push his audiences. Well, he pushed them quite far and a lot of them didn’t come back. But I think that’s part of the fun of a Bradshaw play: observing the audience’s reaction.

Last week I went to see a preview of An Early History of Fire, by David Rabe and the New Group’s newest production at Theatre Row.  I’ve seen a number of productions by the New Group in the last year or two; some of which were good and others were lacking. An Early History of Fire falls somewhere in the middle.

The performances were great, but the play didn’t have much a point. About a young man named Danny in a midwestern town in the 1960’s who is longing for a change, An Early History of Fire, shows what happens to his life when he starts dating a girl from the rich part of town while she’s home from college in the east. There are several mentions of fire, but I didn’t fully understand the need to include it in the title of the piece itself. 

I didn’t recognize Idiot alumni Theo Stockman when he burst on the stage at the top of the first act. He was polished looking, not mugging, and speaking clearly. This was the first time I’d seen him truly act; and he was great.  Gordon Clapp also gave a compelling and heartbreaking performance as Danny’s immigrant father who is attempting to have a death grip on his son, as did Claire van der Boom as Karen, Danny’s girlfriend. 

Though I didn’t completely understand the point of An Early History of Fire, I enjoyed the ending as it was hopeful. As always, The New Group has put together a polished new production that is definitely worth a night out at the theatre.

An Early History of Fire plays through May 26th at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row. Click here for more information.

Last week I saw The New Group’s new play The Russian Transport by Erika Sheffer at Theatre Row. The exciting part was that Jeneane Garofalo was in it. Who doesn’t love her dry sense of humor in Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion? TRT was about a Russian family living in New York City who’s life is disrupted when the mother’s brother comes to stay and introduces her son to a new type of transportation business.

I found the first act tediously long. I didn’t quite understand what was going on and the brother had ridiculously long monologues that went absolutely nowhere. The second act was shorter and more entertaining, but it contained the longest, rambling, most boring monologue that I’ve ever heard courtesy of the brother.

The cast is excellent through out including Garofalo, Daniel Oreskes, Morgan Spector, Sarah Steele, and Raviv Ullman. It wasn’t their fault that the material wasn’t the most entertaining. 

(image via)

 I’d heard that Burning, the current New Group production, was graphic and intense, and yes, that was partially why I went to see it. I wasn’t familiar with most of the cast and knew nothing about why the play was intense other than the fact that it just was, and also that there was a lot of nudity. 

Intense doesn’t being to describe Burning. Burning is the intertwined stories of several groups of people and what happens to them before and after they come together. There’s incest, pedophilia, rape, racism, Neo Nazis, lots of sex, prostitution, murder, and art.  And that just brushes the surface.

There were numerous levels to Burning and all of them could never possibly be understood in one viewing. I’m going to try to go back before it closes, but this was the most uncomfortable (in a good way) I’ve been in a theatre in a while.  If the theatre doesn’t make you uncomfortable every once in a while, what’s the point of going, right?

Hunter Foster somehow found his way into this cast and although he was good, and believable, he looked slightly lost onstage. Danny Mastrogiorgio, the only other name I recognized on the board, was great as well, and as a plus, looked less lost on stage than Foster did.

Burning is an interesting, sometimes cringe-inducing piece of work. If you can go, go. 

On May 26th, I caught one of the last performances of The New Group’s production of a new musical called The Kid.  The Kid is the stage version of Dan Savage’s book of the same name about him and his partners’ experience trying to adopt a child, with book by Michael Zam, lyrics by Jack Lechner, and music by Andy Monroe.

The music was cheesy and fun, at best, and lyrics were straight-forward.  The book was most well-written though.  They presented this controversial topic thoughtfully and provocatively.  They acquired the sympathy of the audience when the couple was faced with the decision of whether or not to adopt the baby of a homeless teenage girl who admitted to drinking and doing drugs during the first trimester she was pregnant; and again when the out-of-the-picture (and also homeless) father of the child in question comes back and almost convinces the girl that they should keep the baby.  

The cast was rockstar as far as musical theatre casts go.  Christopher Sieber and Lucas Steele starred as the couple trying to adopt, and their best friends were played by Ann Harada and Susan Blackwell.  Tyler Maynard and Brooke Sunny Moriber were also featured in the ensemble.  

I thoroughly enjoyed The Kid and look forward to reading the book at some point.  

(photo via)