by Dan Lauria

by David Javerbaum

by Bruce Norris

by Melissa Ross

by Rajiv Joseph

Reviewed by David Spencer

Though I spent three months away tending to my own show in Montreal, I did pop back for a quick trip to attend hearth and home and parents, during rehearsals; and during the four additional weeks after opening managed longer interludes; and of course during that time, I attended what shows I could, knowing that when I finally had time to be reviewing again, some of them could only be covered in post mortem assessment.

But that seems important for a webzine, part of whose audience are the patrons and artisans of the regionals who may be looking for the new plays debuting or being imported to NYC for their own coming seasons. So for those folks, a quick look at some of the recent stuff that may be of interest.


A surprising sleeper off-Broadway hit at the Theatre Row complex was Dan Lauria’s light-touch dark comedy Dinner With the Boys. It’s about a couple of older-middle aged Mafia hit men who have been hoping to retire from the Mob after botching a job, and have been cohabitating (and laying low) in a nice little suburban house, away from the rat race of the city, where Dom (Richard Zavaglia) cooks outrageously delicious Italian meals that he uses to coax Charlie (author Lauria) into telling secret tales of snuff-outs gone by. But “management” manages to find them (in the manner of, first, the hot=tempered son-of-a-don Big Anthony, Jr. and later, senior and much more calculating, “the Uncle Sid”, both played by Ray Abruzzo); so the big question becomes, what kind of punishment awaits the boys? Or…are the boys capable of protecting themselves…?

            As comedies go, this one doesn’t have the assured style of, say, Neil Simon or Herb Gardner; it’s a little rough, a little raggedy, a little crude…but then, what it’s about isn’t exactly delicate, and the plot takes some turns that aren’t exactly dainty. So that's kind of okay. You could give it a try. It wouldn't kill you. Probably.


Act of God, which just finished up at Studio 54 is less of a play, per se, than a Shavian dialectic for one comic and two straight men. Specifically, the evening by David Javerbaum, gives us God—a God acknowledged as inhabiting the person of TV actor Jim Parsons for the 90 minute and intermissionless duration (though the text could be adjusted for any celebrity or local favorite)—finally breaking his silence about the new millennium and abuses of power and philosophy in His name, and expounding upon his own version of the ten commandments (not all of them the commonly known ones). The straight men are two of his angels (played in NY by Tim Kazurinsky, as the feed, and Christopher Fitzgerald as the foil).

            It’s very witty social commentary stuff, but as the premise is that God is going to hit all the rules from one to ten, it follows a schematic structure. There’s no denying that in general, the audience seems happy to be on the ride, but be forewarned: how funny you find it to be for the long haul depends on your stamina for the single idea adhered to that unwaveringly. I found Parsons to be a delight, his cohorts equally sharp but way under-utilized, and the direction by Joe Mantello to be fine; but personally, I was pretty much done about 40 minutes in.


The Qualms, a social comedy by Bruce Norris, is about a suburban sex-partner swapping club, on an evening when veteran members welcome a couple who haven’t ever indulged in anything quite like it before and aren’t quite prepared—not for the activity and not for what its impending reality will force into the open about them. While not up to his Clybourne Park—and arguably even somewhat familiar, if your point of reference goes back to Paul Mazursky’s film of the late 60s, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, which covered the same ground (the sexual revolution) in its own way—The Qualms was still, at Playwrights Horizons, a highly watchable, well-rendered play with good roles for an ensemble of excellent actors, and Pam McKinnon's direction top notch.


Of Good Stock, at Manhattan Theatre Club, was a similarly nothing-new but very decent play, likewise with excellent roles and solid direction (Lynne Meadow). The website boilerplate says this: “The three Stockton sisters are witty, brilliant, beautiful – and a total mess, thanks to the legacy of their complicated novelist father. In Melissa Ross’ new play, these women gather at their family home on Cape Cod for a summer weekend. Their reunion ignites passions, humor, and wildly unanticipated upheavals.” Add their respective male partners to the mix, equally idiosyncratic, and you have a play worth adding to a season.


Rajiv Joseph’s two hander, Guards at the Taj, which debuted and extended at the Atlantic Theater, is worthy of a permanent place in the repertoire of plays for two actors. Here’s the website boilerplate for that one: “In 1648 India, two Imperial Guards watch from their post as the sun rises for the first time on the newly-completed Taj Mahal—an event that shakes their respective worlds. When they are ordered to perform an unthinkable task, the aftermath forces them to question the concepts of friendship, beauty, and duty, and changes them forever.” As with Joseph’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, he’s not interested in creating, emulating or suggesting a locution unique to his storytelling universe. The two guys speak contemporary, colloquial English that only skirts the idiom of distracting anachronism; and while usually I’d see that as a lapse in verisimilitude, it’s bizarrely right, here. These are just two young guys coping as best they can in an impossible situation, and the easy colloq brings you in closer and makes you care about them more. You may even identify with them a little, at least to the point of wondering what you would do in a situation with no absolutely righteous path…or so you have to tell yourself…

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