Friday, December 31, 2010

Ringing in the New Year

Just a reminder (and an invitation) to everyone out there: I'm going to be in Times Square tonight, working as a moderator for the livestream and blog coverage of all the New Year's festivities. The video link below starts at 6:00, you can get a mobile app here (which lets you submit pictures and comments), or join us the old-fashioned browser way right here. I hope you will: we're connecting the whole world, and there's no feeling quite like this.

2011 on Broadcast Live Free

Short-a-Day: Steven Millhauser's "Getting Closer"

Originally published in The New Yorker, Jan. 3, 2011. Personal enjoyment rating (out of 100): 95.

But now, as he stands at the end of waiting, something is wrong.... If he goes into the river he'll lose the excitement, the feeling that everything matters because he's getting closer and closer to the moment he's been waiting for. When you have that feeling, everything's full of life, every leaf, every pebble. But when you begin you're using things up.... He sees it now, he sees it: ending is everywhere.

The third person voice is a little odd, caught between omniscient and being a little boy -- "nine going on ten, skinny-tall, shoulder blades pushing out like things inside a paper bag, new blue bathing suit too tight here, too loose there" -- but as with most Millhauser stories, it works, because he's after the bigger ideas in his moments. And this is one of his most realistic ones yet: on an annual family trip to Indian Cove, the boy pauses before entering the creek, taking in his surroundings and savoring the excitement that has been building to this point.

The writing itself slows way down, too, refusing to get to the action, lingering on details, and the impatient reader may give up, but the last paragraph more than justifies the wait. All of a sudden, we see the other end: not getting closer to the moment, but getting further away from it; the sun, already risen, is now closer to setting; at some point, the boy will no longer be growing up, but growing old. It's a poignant moment, realizing that one cannot fight the tides of time, cannot stop just out of its reach and observe, and Millhauser's choice of this sweet, innocent little boy ("He brings this out in people, who knows why: Cap'n, my good man. It's something about him.") makes the revelation snap all the more -- can you recall that day you first understood death? Big stuff, short story = nicely done.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Short-a-Day: George Saunders's "Escape from Spiderhead"

Originally published in The New Yorker, Dec. 20 & 27, 2010. Personal enjoyment rating (out of 100): 69.

What makes us human? What makes us tick? This is the sort of unanswerable philosophical conundrum some turn to fiction for, and what I, particularly, appreciate about the speculative satires of George Saunders, who takes things to extremes in order to deal with some very basic truths. In this possible future, Jeff works as a glorified lab rat, doing this world's form of prison service, and he'd be angrier about it, save for the fact that what they're testing on him are drip-controlled modifications to humanity itself, from the physical of Vivistif (a sort of Viagra) to the mental of Verbaluce (a boost to one's IQ re: verbal communication), and now the emotional of ErthAdmire, which in the first segment is simply being used to make nature look better, but in the rapidly escalating second section is being used to convince Jeff that he's in love with fellow subject Heather . . . and isn't he? And therein lies the tragedy of this opening, as the drugs wear off:

"I spent all lunchtime thinking. It was weird. I had the memory of fucking Heather, the memory of having felt the things I'd felt for her, the memory of having said the things I'd said to her. My throat was like raw from how much I'd said and how fast I'd felt compelled to say it. But in terms of feelings? I basically had nada left."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Short-a-Day: Nuruddin Farah's "YoungThing"

Originally published in The New Yorker, Dec. 13, 2010. Personal enjoyment rating (out of 100): 29.

Brilliant opening line: "A Yankee cap- and Ray-Ban-wearing boy of indeterminate age gets out of a car that has just stopped." Note the familiar use of American signifiers, and how readily they cloak the boy's true purpose, revealed at the latter part of this paragraph: "new conscripts drafted into the Shabaab-led insurgency." By throwing these terms around -- without attaching the weighted opinion of a word like "terrorist," -- we are better able to focus on the nameless everychild for what he is, and what he is not. After all, for all his bravado in carrying explosives and a gun, he is easily tricked (by a "body tent"-wearing woman, who sadly sees him for what he is, a killer) into going to the wrong rendezvous point, and his posturing is naked mimicry: "His gun poised the way he has seen it done in movies" or "He moves stealthily forward, as silent as the leopard in stories he has heard." Ultimately, "A young thing like him can't comprehend the intricate political games adults play," games in which he is clearly a pawn.

Sadly, these are all generalities: Farah ultimately leaves us with as vague an idea of child soldiers/martyrs as we had before; the character is indistinct, the plotting tedious and blandly written.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Short-a-Day: Jim Gavin's "Costello"

Originally published in The New Yorker, Dec. 6, 2010. Personal enjoyment rating (out of 100): 73.

Somewhere along the line, someone convinced fiction editors -- particularly those at The New Yorker -- that description was the key to any good story, forgetting, in the process, that unless it truly communicates something, it's all just words. What does a good image truly accomplish? At best, it snaps you out of the story for a moment, as you see it with the eyes of your own experience, and when you slingshot back in, perhaps it feels realer, more vivid -- despite the fact that you've been skimming surfaces, far from immersed. I bring this up because Gavin's opening details and dialogue -- Martin Costello, plumbing sales rep extraordinary (well, at least for this section of Anaheim), is smoking on the diving board, fishing a lizard out of his greenish pool, and talking with his landscaping neighbor, Jesse Rocha -- are great, but bogged down with stuff like this: "Saturday, an extra layer of brightness, Saturday brightness, like God opening a window in the sky" and "The trimmer snaps on, the noise making a million tiny cracks in the afternoon." It takes away from the mundane greatness of this: "The back yard needs work. Weeds flaming up from cracks in the concrete, all the flowerpots empty, the patio cover rotten with termites." See the difference in evocation?

It's odd, too, because this opening doesn't really fit the rest of the story, for Gavin soon lapses into a more direct, borderline abrupt, rhythm: "Keys, doors, faster. A fucking zombie attack," he thinks after running into a mentally handicapped acquaintance at Mass; "Dick Dale on cassette, black coffee from McDonald's, a trunkful of defective ball cocks," he writes, describing his drive to work. There are a few sour notes that sound out of character ("Let them throw his body over the side of a transition loop, commending his soul to Trafficus rex"), but at least the story's built enough momentum by this point -- what exactly happened to his wife to turn him into a sloth, a recluse, a social-engagement-avoiding-liar? -- to pave over these patches.

Monday, December 27, 2010

THEATER: Nutcracker Rouge

Photo/Steven Schrieber

Of the many types of candies that dance in The Nutcracker and, consequently, in Austin McCormick's "Baroque Burlesque confection" Nutcracker Rouge, cotton candy isn't represented. Well, not in person, at least. The show itself resembles that treat: lighter than air, sweetly spun, and sticky when wet. Though Company XIV is once again adapting what is mainly treated as a children's fairy tale (as they did with Snow White and Le Cirque Feerique), the production is their most risque yet, a bold return to the format they did so well with Le Serpent Rouge and The Judgment of Paris. And when Drosselmeyer (Jeff Takacs), our doll-making host, announces that he's got "some kinks to work out," I can assure you -- if the opening "horizontal polka" doesn't convince you -- that he's not referring to any definition with "mistake" in it.

After a prelude in which Drosselmeyer's god-daughter Marie-Claire (Laura Careless) ventures through a forest filled with dancing snowflakes and regal wolves, the audience is seated in the Kingdom of the Sweets, and the next seventy minutes are filled with such eye-candy that you might want to save the complementary chocolate under your seat for later (lest you get an instant cavity). As sultry remixes of Tchaikovsky classics waft through the air, a trio of sexy maraschino cherries dance on stage (Marla Phelan, Mina Lawton, and Delphina Parenti); they are followed by dancers (in fewer and fewer clothes) who represent desirable Turkish Delights (Yeva Glover, Marisol Cabrera, and Parenti) or leashed and latexed bits of Licorice (Sean Gannon and Michael Hodge).

There's a peppery sort of Chocolate (Cabrera), doing what feels like a Flamenco, and then a positively comical flood of macaroons, who tumble to and fro on their swings (or atop one another) as Takacs, dressed as a grotesque Marie Antoinette, regales us with their bloody origin. Through it all, Careless is far from careless, as she manages to transform from a prude young girl to a tempted child, to a sexually confident lady and then to a terrified woman -- for too much of any good thing can be a bad thing -- until, after a good old can-can, reclaiming the stage for herself, a Sugar Plum who isn't afraid to pole dance as she waits for her Nutcracker Prince (David Martinez).

Food metaphors aside, it's hard to imagine anyone not eating this up: from the slow and sensuous to the speedy and silliest, from the technique of the ballet to the performance of the burlesque, from the shyness of the actor to the confidence of the dancer, Nutcracker Rouge isn't just a crackling success, it's the best show Company XIV's done yet.
[Bonus: You can get an even clearer sense of the show's vibe with this extended teaser, here.]

Saturday, December 11, 2010

THEATER: The Land Whale Murders

If Mad Magazine collided with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the result would be something like Jonathan A. Goldberg's The Land Whale Murders. With one foot in Nielsen-like parody and the other in sincere homage to old adventure serials, Goldberg's play is a sublimely shallow affair, snappily directed by Tom Ridgely (who is doing his best impersonation of Sherlock Holmes's Guy Ritchie). It's highly entertaining, but precariously so, especially if you don't find the idea of Teddy Roosevelt (Rich Hollman) dressing up as a superhero named The Big Stick to be funny. (Their last collaboration, The Luck of the IBIS, had more meat to it, but let's be honest: who doesn't find a super-heroic, super-egotistical T.R. hilarious? "Bully!")

The play opens by introducing a fellowship of scientists who identify themselves as The Four Elementals: serious Hiram Blud (Robert Michael McClure), a watery whale-enthusiast; his sister Maryanne (Jennifer Joan Thompson), a fiery poetess; his one-time love, Angus Troup (Amy Landon), who has been disfigured by her earthy love of plants; and Eugene Neddly (Carl Howell), an bird-brain who unrequitedly loves Maryanne every bit as much as he is foolish, foppish, and wealthy. But in an act of ichthyterrorism, Hiram is stabbed to death by a swordfish, and it's up to our surviving heroes to find the culprit: could it be whale oil magnate Henry B. Lubbins III (Nathaniel Kent), or is it perhaps the masked Pirate Penny and her Blowhole Gang? Say what you will: this fishy plot, which involves the abduction of a fifty-six-foot whale, comes up with some rather good, rather literal, red herrings, and Goldberg is clever enough to trawl the depths for every last laugh. (If anything, he floods the show with too much: jokes with little relevance -- like a window-repairman's jingle -- go on far past the point of humor, Family Guy-style.)

That The Land Whale Murders remains so ship-shape is a credit to Ridgely and his crew; Jason Simms's simple hand-painted curtains set the tone and Deanna R. Frieman's sleek and sexy 1896-ish costumes then enhance it, clearly defining the play as good-natured fantasy. In fact, M. L. Dogg's sound design goes so far as to borrow music from films (in addition to some nice squishy, squid-y effects), a clear reminder that the play is meant to operate on the pop-cultural level that's all the rage these days. Of course, without a steady cast aboard the vehicle, the thing would sail around in circles, so it's nice to so easily praise them, particularly Kent, who attacks the stereotypical accents of his three characters with exceptional gusto, and Howell, who succeeds in making Neddly more than just a fool -- without spoiling any of the jokes that rely so heavily on him being just that.

The Shelby Company is quickly making a name for itself with its professional, comic, and original material. So far as plays go, The Land Whale Murders is a bit fatty, but like fatty tuna, it's delicious nonetheless. Or as Goldberg puts it: "Ambergris That Ends Well."

Friday, December 10, 2010

THEATER: Emancipatory Politics

Photo/Morgan Anne Zipf

So imagine that you're hanging with fifteen graduate-school buddies, a philosophical yet fun-loving bunch. It's three in the morning: you've got a second wind on your buzz, and everything looks, feels, and sounds good. This must be life. But wait, set your cooling pizza down for a moment and look across the fourth wall of the room. There's an audience out there, complementary beers in hands, and that is as it should be: after all, you're playing yourself (or a character with your name) and you're living Eric Bland's Emancipatory Politics. This is, perhaps, what it's like to be part of Old Kent Road Theater's ensemble.

If a young Will Eno turned into a Neo-Futurist and wrote a play, this is what you might expect: a carefully curated "dam of consciousness," a bit of political theater that has been freed from the obligation to be (a) political or, strictly speaking, (b) theater. (It takes place, according to one character, in "what the New Yorker refers to as a Mannerist, smash-up era.") At two intermission-less hours and with sixteen characters, the play is too long, especially since it lacks the narrative drive of Bland's previous show, Jeanine's Abortion. However, Emancipatory Politics features an engaging (though somewhat uneven) cast, a group that provokes not the usual physical intimacy of stage (proximity and catharsis) but a mental intimacy (distance and insight). In that light, it hardly matters that characters suddenly decide to wrestle one another, break character in order to do a modern dance, or become the mouthpieces for puppets: at worst, these devices are twee; at best, they put film's so-called mumblecore to shame -- particularly in their low-budget, authentic indie aesthetic. (Abernathy Bland's floor-length drawing springs to mind.)

Though the show aims to make artificial stage dialogue into organic conversation (by removing the traditional "stakes" of a drama), the result is not always compelling enough. It is, however, certainly interesting, and written in a beautifully elliptic style. Beowulf Jones and Morgan Anne Zipf argue about whether or not our society is doomed, quickly shifting from the cynical ("If you're not a bi-curious vegan working for Greenpeace these days, you're not allowed to ride the L train") to the hopeful ("Despite everything, we haven't annihilated one another yet. And this points to something deep in the human soul, a desire to live and go on living as a species, a species that is insecure, violent, and irrational, but also proud, adaptable, and fundamentally decent").

Victoria Tate will muse about the sexuality of eating a peach; Megan McGowan's will offer grim reminders of human cruelty both in and outside our borders. What would be awkward transitions are instead casual in the hands (and mouths) of this cast of smooth talkers; Gavin Starr Kendall calls it being Southern: "Our metaphors don't have to resolve themselves and when we digress you're supposed to find it charming." Consider the way in which Anne Carlisle must connect these thoughts, after a friend asks to borrow her bicycle (to ride from New York to Arizona): "Yeah, just don't scratch it. Or do. I don't care, at all. If you had a choice, would you rather be Orwellian or Kafkaeseque? ... I think Animal Farm is missing a cockroach."

And yet, Emancipatory Politics ends with a feeling of emptiness, for it is an artificial, almost arbitrary, play, no matter how convincingly delivered. OKR claims to be on a "search for meaning in the lives of 20 and 30-something contemporary New Yorkers," and yet that search seems tame, the sort of thoughtful safari that we watch through stained-glass windows: our eyes are glazed over with the beauty of the language, but our hearts are frosted.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

MOVIE: Black Swan

Does any filmmaker tie music into his movies as well as Darren Aronofksy? His latest, Black Swan, has healthy helpings of the spiraling madness of Pi, The Wrestler's authentically grim look at the cost of being a professional, and the tightly orchestrated rhythms that made Requiem for a Dream so compelling. The end result is slighter, however, in that the film is meant to mirror a fantasy ballet -- that of Swan Lake -- and thereby really only succeeds in showing the precarious edge between genius and madness: the potential cost, that is, of perfection.

It's an art-house suspense flick, in which the hero, soloist Nina (Natalie Portman), is hunted as much by her preening rivals within the company -- most notably Lily (Mila Kunis) -- as she is by herself. And yet, the film is exquisitely shot by Matthew Libatique and scored by the reliable Clint Mansell (and with healthy doses of Tchaikovsky) to the point of suffocating tension: her pressures and struggles are larger-than-life phantasms and everyday demons, all at once. The film mainly focuses on Nina's troubles, but it does at least hint at the wider implications of fame: her career mirrors that of the company's former star Beth (Winona Ryder) -- now a drunken, broken, discarded wreck -- and rebels against the never-a-lead-dancer ways of Erica (Barbara Hershey), who is now little more than a vicarious, controlling stage mother.

What Aronofsky captures so brilliantly is the sense of high-stakes pressure: there are constant close-ups of the en pointe twists and the agonizing sound effects of physical therapy (foot joints acrackle), the infinite reflections of mirrors (closing in and endless, all at once), and a sense of isolation for the lead -- scorned by her fellow dancers, castigated by her forceful director Thomas (Vincent Cassel), and given her own room. Nina is shown constantly in motion and usually in white, all aflutter and spun around -- manipulated, even -- by those who would lift her up for their own gain. This, of course, fits perfectly with the ideal of beauty that Odette -- the White Swan -- represents, and it's no surprise that Nina begins to crack as she attempts to also portray Odile, the evil Black Swan. After all, she has been told to "lose herself" in the role, to "loosen up" in order to be more perfect, to find the passionate misstep that is in fact the right step toward transcendence.

The thematic motifs -- color shifts between white and black, to say nothing of Portman's increasing aggression, or of Swan Lake itself -- are what elevate the film to art itself, what make it more than a one-note descent into madness. At the same time, the limited colors -- polar opposites, setting the film always at one extreme or another -- are what keep Black Swan from being a masterpiece. The craft is perfect, and so the transcendent surprise is absent; the airtight pressures choke us up, but also suffocate our emotions. It is a swan that does not fly, and yet whose grace nonetheless keeps us spellbound. ---- B+

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

THEATER: Baby Universe

Photo/Jim Baldassare

Puppets are rarely taken seriously, so it says a lot about the puerile premise of Wakka Wakka's Baby Universe that the terrifically designed and meticulously operated puppets are the most serious part of their show. Much like The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer, the show takes place in an apocalyptic future, with humanity on a desperate mission to save itself -- in this case, from a dying galaxy in which the sun, in one last burst of apocalyptic heat, is burning out. The elaborate scheme of the slapstick scientists (Kirjan Waage and Andrew Manjuck) is to birth a new universe, 7001 (Peter Russo), and to have its "mother" (Gwendolyn Warnock) raise it out of its big-bang infancy to a state of growth large enough such that it can be entered by the remnants of humankind, represented here by the resolutely un-dour host of Apocalypse Radio (Manjuck).

Wakka Wakka's last show here, Fabrik, was an excellent and heartbreaking work, but it was grounded by its subject matter: the Holocaust. This time around, they are untethered by anything realistic: their choices absolve humanity of its environmental recklessness (the Earth is fine; it's the Sun that is dying) and the play carefully skirts the morality of medical testing by largely ignoring the previous seven thousand "failed" baby universes, and by making the scientists such bumbling and innocuous fools. And while Baby Universe resembles a child's fairy tale, especially with a sinister Sun (Manuck) and Moon (Waage) creeping in the shadows, working to abduct and destroy 7001, the play has no consequences, no moral ending.

The puppetry is admirable, and shows a variety of styles: from hand-and-rod babies to hand-in-puppet adults and actor-in-giant-puppet-suit planets. The aesthetic choices work well, too: the Bunraku outfits of the ensemble (which also includes Melissa Creighton) resemble a cross between spacesuits and apocalyptic protective wear (gas masks), and the set (designed by Wakka Wakka and Joy Wang) shows the increasing emptiness of the dying galaxy. But the technical and artistic choices are meant to enhance existing material, material which, in the case of Baby Universe, is largely absent. For a while, it is enough to simply watch the adorable 7001 in its infancy: it can detach limbs in order to play ball with itself, treat its penis like a dog that plays tricks, and throw a cosmic-level tantrum. But at some point, the play needs to grow up; its inability to do so shows a failure on the part of its parents at Wakka Wakka.

Monday, December 06, 2010

THEATER: Angels in America

Photo/Joan Marcus

Threshold of revelation, guys: Angels in America is one of the most over-hyped plays I've ever seen. Irresponsibly long and cripplingly ludicrous, I'm thoroughly convinced that if not for the novelty of the "epic" form coming in the midst of a dark time (1990), to say nothing of the light shed on those living with AIDS ("We will die silent deaths no longer"), Tony Kushner's script might have gotten the paring down it needed. Instead, it remains a gelatinous mush-up of three different (and slightly overlapping) plays, a set in which the only good one is entirely too preachy and chock full o' angels with a penchant for the obvious: suffering is a part of life; it is not the end of it. The flimsiness of Signature's revival -- it feels as if an eighty-person dinner party is being hosted in a studio apartment -- can only be blamed for so much, though you can feel free to lay more blame at the feet of Zoe Kazan, who treats Harper Pitt as an acting exercise.

For all that frustration, Angels in America isn't a bad play, nor is this production unwatchable, thanks to people like Christian Borle, an A-level actor who humanizes Prior Walter's insufferable pathos, captures the hilarity of the angel intrusions, and demonstrates both the unmanageable and manageable poles of life with AIDS. Though Kushner forces Prior to hash out the same accusatory conversation with his boyfriend Louis (Zachary Quinto), who has abandoned him out of fear, Borle manages to find new notes each time, as does Belize (Billy Porter), a sassy drag-queen-turned-night-nurse who, although forced to listen to highbrow rants from Louis and to have redundant conversations with Prior, peppers his own rebuttals with adequate spice. But at the same time, this is the good play: repetitive, whiny, preachy.

The other two major segments should hope for as much: Roy Cohn is a Scrooge-like lawyer who is visited by the ghosts of the people he has wronged in the past, and to his end, he remains an unrepentant bastard, a representation of pure evil: the secret gay who works to destroy gay rights. Frank Wood doesn't find an ounce of nuance with which to present the guy, and the nasally, spittle-flecked accent he chooses for the role is often distracting. Kushner, and director Michael Grief, by extension, treat him like a human pinata, except one who is filled with bile instead of candy: the worse he gets, the nastier he grows. As for Harper Pitt, she's really nothing more than a hallucinating, Valium-popping agoraphobe: it's a thankless, unresolved part that Kushner seems unclear on, glossing over her Mormon beliefs and heartbroken feelings toward her husband, Joe Pitt (Bill Heck). She doesn't come of age here; she just wanders off and isn't pursued. As for Joe, Heck's fine when he escapes the orbit of his play and that of Roy's (he is Roy's chief clerk), and provides one of the few fully developed characters -- a religiously closeted man who begins to open up, to take what he wants, after falling for Louis. And yet, though his mother, Hannah (Robin Bartlett), shows up in the epilogue, he is nowhere to be seen, so perhaps he wasn't that important after all.

Angels in America is littered with soapboxes and straw men, and for all Kushner's lauded genius, it's about as subtle as a thorn in your side. Twenty years later, there are still some uplifting moments, but the six-plus-hour length is unearned, the drama is cheap (it plays on deep emotions the audience is likely to already carry), and the Millennium feels passed by.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

THEATER: Goodbye New York, Goodbye Heart

Photo/Rick Ngoc Ho 

Three years ago, the Production Company premiered a short version of Lally Katz's Goodbye New York, Goodbye Heart, a romantic and quirky look at life after death, in which a depressed Caroline visits -- for her friend's wedding -- the "city" of Myspace New York, which has been recreated by the many people who have committed suicide in the real world. While there, she becomes an avalanche dweller -- obsessed and in love with Thornbury, one of the dead -- and just barely escapes before the whole fantasy world crashes. There's a Charlie Kaufman-esque appeal to the concept (think Eternal Sunshine), and a Sarah Ruhl-ish vibe to the language (similar in weight and tone to Dead Man's Cell Phone), but the last three years haven't served Katz's play well: as a full-length (ninety minute) play, it's too stretched out and consequently dry.

Nicolle Bradford -- who played Caroline in the original production, too -- has grown into the role, and gives plenty of life to her character, approaching the sorrow with equal parts of optimism, stubbornness, and anger. But she's surrounded by avatars, not characters, and these shallow representations keep her from connecting with flesh and blood. People like her ex, Andy (Brian Robert Burns), fly in for a scene, peppering the script with curses, and then vanish, without any growth -- and without any real impact. The actors do a fine job, particularly the comic relief of Sally and Claire (Erin Maya Darke and Danielle Slavick), two would-be-vegan chefs, but their role -- giving Caroline a job -- is far too slight, and they wind up a distraction. Some characters -- like Miss Jacklyn (Polly Lee), the flustered, far-gone leader of Avalanche Dwellers Anonymous -- are too cleanly reduced to a function: in this case, representing Caroline in fifteen years, a cautionary zombie. The result feels artificial, especially when the exposition of the dialogue meets the poetry of Caroline's monologues, and it buries the doomed (and one-sided) "romance" between Caroline and Thornbury (a fascinatingly reserved Ryan King) for too long.

These things stand out, as they must, because Valerie Therese Bart's set is meant to be a drab, expressionistically modern, background. It is everywhere and nowhere, and it keeps the emphasis on the more colorful characters (especially in Carolyn Hoffman's outfits) trying to give this fantasy life. But director Oliver Butler -- who has achieved great magic with his own company, The Debate Society -- seems restrained by this too, too solid set: it reduces movement (on the balconies or cramped apartments, or in Caroline's barred apartment) and creates some unfortunate sight lines (courtesy of the giant poles that are part of HERE's space). It doesn't feel as if Myspace New York is slowly fading or "crashing" all around them: rather, it feels like they've been living in the land of the dead from the start.

One of the themes of Goodbye New York, Goodbye Heart is that although nothing is lost in this digital age, those who believe that wind up losing themselves, for they disassociated from the present, from what's real. The same goes for Katz's play, which, in refusing to lose anything, has cut its own heart out.