AISLE SAY New York

SLOW SUMMER REPORT

Including Reviews of:

THE SHOEMAKER
by Susan Charlotte
Directed by Antony Marsellis
Starring Danny Aiello
with Alma Cuervo and Lucy DiVito
Theatre Row Complex on 42nd Street (Acorn Theatre)
Official Website

and

ALL NEW PEOPLE
by Zach Braff
Directed by Peter DuBois
2nd Stage Theatre
on West 43rd Street

Reviewed by David Spencer

Review-wise, I may be having the slowest Summer ever in my sixteen  (geez, 16!!!) years of Aisle Say—and maybe even the entire number of years I’ve been a critic at all…which I shall not specify. In part, that’s because I’ve been taking it easy to devote time and effort to other projects, letting some of the lower-Octane productions go unseen…but also…the city seems to be taking a rest too, and weird timing has lent a hand, causing delays. (To cite but one example: I would have had a review of Death Takes a Holiday in this ish, save for a call from the press agent office a day before my scheduled appointment. Star Julian Ovendon would be out of the show and I would have to be rescheduled. So, rescheduled I was, for three weeks after—still a week away as I write—to attend a performance not long before the musical’s scheduled closing…and of course as everyone knows by now, Ovendon’s vocal problems were reportedly so severe [this appears to be the real story, by the way, not a euphemism] that his understudy, Kevin Earley wound up taking over permanently, thus rendering the initial reason for the resched utterly moot. But who could have predicted?)
                        So this is but a drive-by and a casual one. Just touching base about the past few weeks.


The economy has affected everyone, and the Public Theatre’s free Shakespeare in the Park (which I was also delayed in seeing, this due to my feeling under the weather) was around for  only half its traditional run, its two shows running in repertory, Measure for Measure, directed by David Esbjornson, was a pleasant enough experience for most (I must admit, I found it highly competent but only mildly effective); and All’s Well That Ends Well, directed by Daniel Sullivan, was a sensitively handled treat. The astonishment common to both productions was seeing just how limber, forceful, energetic, committed and apparently unstoppable John Cullum remains—at the age of 81. There have been, I admit, times, over the years, when I’ve thought, “Oh God, not Cullum again…” but you know…? If you add his unbdeniable talent to the sheer ubiquity of his career, he’s made himself into something of a national treasure—I really believe that—and how can we do aught but appreciate the hell out of him while he’s still kicking up his heels and giving his considerable all. Even longer may he continue to reign.


Danny Aiello
a national treasure?!?! Well, his program bio says he’s that, along with being a legendary self-starter (no really, quote: “…a legendary self-starter and national treasure”). Well, I must have missed those memos. He’s undoubtedly one of those character actors who makes a singular impression, and he can make it with some power, but his palate is limited (as opposed to Cullum, who has a limited toolkit but has fashioned with it a seemingly limitless palate and a range that defies cubbyholing); but I’m sorry, if he wants to get near National Treasure status, (a) it better say so someplace other than his program bio, and (b) he’d better choose better projects than The Shoemaker, currently in the Theatre Row complex. The play, by Susan Charlotte (who co-produced with Aiello, and I’m not sayin’ nuthin’) began its life as a one act, in which the events of 9/11 trigger memories of the Holocaust for an old Italian Jew who escaped the Nazis as a boy, but without his family, and suffers from what may be the world’s longest-running case of baseless survivor guilt. In the one act, the old guy—a midtown shoe repairer in NYC—has a moment of communion with a middle aged teacher (Alma Cuervo here, affecting and understated) who wanders into his shop with a broken heel. A modest, human encounter between people sharing a horrible kind of pain and not bad. But this two act version triggers a second act flashback “trip”—i.e. a rushing flood of memory—that has Aiello pinballing about the stage “confronting his past,” according to the press release. But since he was only ever a victim with no secrets to reveal (just some memories he’s consciously forced down out of sight, repressed but not suppressed) he really doesn’t have anything dramatic to confront, and so he just kind of shouts out dates and talks about the awful events that happened on them—presumably to the spirit of his father, but you still wonder if old Dad needs the recitation. Wasn’t he there? The monologue is long-winded and, to my taste, actively embarrassing, an imitation of profundity. If anything makes Act II bearable, the first half anyway, it’s the appearance of sweet, petite Lucy DiVito in an unnecessary role (it recycles stuff we already know) that’s best not described here for being a spoiler. At least she isn’t so shouty…


I’m not sure what to say about former Scrubs star Zach Braff’s new mostly-comedy All New People at Second Stage, because on the one hand, I found it very entertaining and agreeable while I was there, but thinking about it the morning after (which it is, as I write), All New People seems to leave only the faintest after-echo, my memory of it threatening to evanesce even as I type these words. Why should that be?
                        Well, here’s the premise: Dead of Winter, elegant beach house on the Jersey Shore, Charlie (Justin Bartha) is about to hang himself when Emma (Krysten Ritter) enters, startles him into jumping off the chair quite before he’s ready, and so winds up both nearly killing him and then quickly rescuing him at the same time. An expatriate Brit, she’s a real estate agent, here to prepare the house for a showing. To get him to relax, she calls a friend of hers to deliver some recreational party drugs; this turns out to be Myron (David Wilson Barnes), head of the local fire department, a wryly deceptive fellow who lover her even though she doesn’t feel “that way” about him. Shortly thereafter, another unexpected guest arrives: Kim (Anna Camp), an expensive but ditzy call girl, there as a birthday present for the would-be suicider, at the behest of his offstage friend Kevin (Tony Goldwyn) who owns the beach house. How is it possible for Tony Goldwyn to play an offstage friend, you ask? I’m coming to that.
                        Each of these randomly assembled people has a darkish secret in his/her past. As each is revealed (to us at least), barrier closes in front of the set to become a movie screen, and we watch brief scenes that dramatize the backstory. (Other guest stars include Kevin Conway and S. Epatha Merkerson.) The feature scenes might well have been played live by additional cast members, or members of the primary quartet in artful doublings—which is to say a production of the play need not be dependent upon film clips—so they make for a style choice. An odd one, but a fun one.
                        And the play seems to want to tell us that dark pasts—at least the dark pasts of forgivably human mistakes—can be overcome. Because not only are there new ways to look at things, there are always new people to look at you freshly, and reinvigorate your world. A nice enough message.
                        But in retrospect, the play feels like little more than a one-off sitcom script (it could be a pilot, but Braff would need to open up his ending a bit). And not a bad sitcom script. Just one that offers up random thirtysomethings who don’t really need to be there save by the author’s whim. The performers are engaging, the lines are funny, the direction by Peter DuBois is smoothly professional…but it adds up to less than the sum of its parts. And it’s a perfectly agreeable way to while away an evening. Written by a playwright who may in time have more compelling things to tell us. But you don’t have to be there either…

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