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Shows Worth Seeing:

Abigail's Party
By Mike Leigh
The Acorn Theater
410 W. 42nd St.
Box office: (212) 279-4200





The director Scott Elliott’s natural affinity for Mike Leigh’s sprawling, abrasive and riskily improvisational plays has been evident since The New Group’s 1995 inaugural production of Ecstasy. Elliott has a knack for focusing Leigh’s diffuse material by locating the preternaturally aggressive core within each awful situation and magnifying it through fluidly controlled ensemble work. Abigail’s Party, Leigh’s best-known play in Britain, was written in 1977 but has never before been produced in the U.S. You can tell why. Its crucially specific milieu of crass upward mobility in 1970s middle-class Britain is no cinch for American theater folks to understand, let alone replicate, yet Elliott’s perceptiveness and finesse with actors once again wins out. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Beverly, the housewife-hostess from hell, who invites some neighbors over for cocktails and subjects them to some astonishingly rigid notions of fun—including compulsory gin-drinking, obligatory pop music, and deliberate avoidance of extended conversation. As the gathering drones on (with Leigh’s nasally sing-song voice as the main drone), a party thrown by a neighboring teenager grows louder and more out of control, while the teen's mother gets quietly sloshed in passive obedience to Beverly. This thoroughly irritating evening somehow amounts to much more than irritation in the end, rising above its particulars to sound a horribly essential note about the vacuous essence of consumer-age consciousness.



Super Vision
By The Builders Association and dbox
BAM Harvey Theater

Kasser Theater
Montclair State University
Dec. 8-10
Box office: (973) 655-5112







The Builders Association’s latest multi-media piece (a collaboration with dbox, directed by Marianne Weems) is well designed to confirm most prejudices. If you think slick digital technology on a live-action stage necessarily means shallow narrative, you’ll find that here. If you think the interaction of real actors with virtual actors is a sure recipe for woodenness on both sides, this show will pose no counter-argument. And if you think everything interesting has already been said about the Big Brother dangers of data-collection in the digital age, the banalities of the 3 overlapping stories in Constance de Jong’s text for Super Vision will reassure you that’s true. Still, there are windows of surprise and satisfaction, for anyone open to discovering them. The video-game digital technique, for instance, is dazzling and a lot of fun. Also, the scenes do have some moments of interesting complexity. A foreign businessman marked as a suspicious “person of interest” by the computer system at U.S. Passport Control, for instance, is repeatedly subjected to intrusive personal questioning, until he figures out that he can ease his passage by volunteering personal information that the immigration officers don’t have and speaking to them as old friends. A woman in New York (described as part of the “young digirati”) speaks by video-phone with her grandmother in Sri Lanka, but only the old woman actually stays by the computer camera, chattering away as the granddaughter obsessively multi-tasks—looking up information, making other calls on her cell. This deliberate distraction gives a fresh twist to the breakdown of close human contact that occurs later when the grandmother loses her memory. There’s both more and less in Super Vision than meets the eye as digital candy. No masterpiece, it's nevertheless well worth a visit.



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