Thursday, March 27, 2008

Playwrights Horizon: "Dead Man's Cell Phone" and "The Drunken City"

- Dead Man's Cell Phone, by Sarah Ruhl

Photo/Joan Marcus

Dead Man's Cell Phone is a marvelously quirky, beautiful love story. It's incredibly specific in tone, with poetics taking precedence over sense, but between Sarah Ruhl's easy control of language, Anne Bogart's gentle aesthetic minimalism, and the cast's unequivocal focus, the show works. It is, however, marred by a sloppier second act that reaches for extremes that end up blurring the precise magic of the first (and no wonder, given that Ruhl spent a year between acts). Sloppy or not, I've got no complaints at seeing more of the magnificent Mary-Louise Parker, who despite playing a mousy, timid do-gooder, is arresting even with her short, sparing snippets of text. Her physical control (and her powerful pauses -- I'd kill to see her do Albee or Pinter) fill in the rest of the blanks, and even seem to justify the aphorisms about cell-phones that are thrown around by the other characters, particularly the cool and direct Mrs. Gottlieb (Kathleen Chalfant) and her shadowed son, Dwight (David Aaron Baker), who anchor the show. It isn't so important that we make something of dead man Gordon's (T. Ryder Smith) monologue, or of Jean's arrival in a Beckett-like hell (think Play Without Words I), so much as we let the show, with its weird, wonderful rhythms, wash over us.

- The Drunken City, by Adam Bock

The characters of The Drunken City all suffer from either loving too hard or being loved too hard; the problem is that just as the actors slip so well into the drunkenness of their roles, they also end up either overplaying their parts (Barrett Foa), or not going far enough (Alfredo Narciso). However, for this giddy, bubbly midnight hour (and twenty minutes) of play, Adam Bock totally pulls us into his world, with an exaggeratedly lush comic tone that turns into a rich, dry drama about the men and women trapped on the shaky ground of love (literally, thanks to David Korins's slick, sleek set). Trip Cullman's direction uses a chic and minimal modernity that fits "the City" and his actors, though sometimes unbalanced alone, make a wonderfully sloppy chorus. Cassie Beck, as the pressured Marnie, is a marvelous anchor, not wasting a single drop of talent even at her tipsiest; Maria Dizzia, as the jilted Melissa, makes the switch between carefree and cautious go down smoothly; and Sue Jean Kim, as Linda, is always good for another shot of comic relief.

Note: use code DCBL for $35 tickets to any performance of The Drunken City.

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